Trend shows more girls playing football across the nation

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CENTRALIA - Britany Levitt plays wide receiver and linebacker for Centralia High School’s freshman football team. She is the only girl.

In a sport dominated by males, however, players like Levitt are becoming more commonplace.

“A few people are a little awkward by it but a lot of them support me in doing that,” Levitt said.

A report from the National Federation of State High School Associations showed the number of girls participating in high school football across the nation increased by nearly 400 in 2015. A record 1,964 girls played the sport last season.

In Missouri, the numbers also trend upward. After a dip in participation between 2014 and 2015, the number of girls playing football across the state went up from 67 to 86 this year, according to the Missouri State High School Activities Association.

“My inspiration has to be a few of my friends,” Levitt said, “because they are the ones that are like, ‘Hey, you should try out for this sport because it would really suit you.’”

Besides playing football, Levitt also wrestles, and she said both sports teach her similar skills and values, both on and off the field.

“When I was younger I had these really amazing coaches and they’d always tell me what to do and stuff to help me,” Levitt said. “I’d get so many tackles, they’d help me so much.”

Despite showing an increase this year, Missouri still trails other states in girls’ football participation. California reported 333 players, followed by Ohio with 245 and Texas with 178 girls playing in 2015. Missouri’s data for girls’ football participation was not included in the NFHS report.

Locally, other programs have also had girls involved with football, including Harrisburg High School, which has two girls playing for its football team this year. Sophie Cunningham, a sophomore on Missouri’s basketball team, formerly played on Rock Bridge High School’s football team.

“A lot of it is peer pressure from classmates and the other players not wanting to change what they’re used to,” said Greg Stemme, Levitt’s coach, on what prevents girls from getting involved with football. “That’s probably the biggest obstacle that they have in entering a sport like this that’s predominately played by males.”

Overall, girls’ participation in all high school sports increased nation-wide for the 27th consecutive year, the NFHS reported. More than 3.3 million girls played high school sports in 2015-16, setting a new record.