Written by Talia Milavetz
When eighth grader Ary Bachand stepped out onto the field as part of the Jordan Middle School football team last fall, no one on the competing side could tell she was a girl.
Standing as tall as the middle school boys at 5’8″, with her hair tied up, helmet on, and maroon and gold uniform covered in safety pads, she played a game as fast and as strong as anyone else.
But when she took off her helmet and let her hair down, a parent on the opposing team was outraged, saying girls shouldn’t play football with the boys.
“People are like, ‘You can’t play, you’re not strong enough, or you’re a girl; you won’t be as strong as the guys,’” said Bachand, who lives in Belle Plaine. “I went to practices, I studied for everything, and now I’m going on to the high school team for football.”
Last week, Bachand found out she will move on to play on the Hubmen Junior Varsity or C-Squad during her freshman year.
She will likely continue to play defense and hopes to work towards her goal of starting as a corner.
While parents and students from other districts sometimes give her a hard time, her Jordan teammates see the value she brings to the squad and have been supportive.
“The boys are there for me when I need it. They understand that it can be hard being the only girl there. They accepted me,” she said.
Her coaches say she was always itching to jump in the game.
“She really loves football; she really wanted to learn everything and just get on the field. She was the one player always behind my shoulder saying, ‘Hey, can I get in?’ when she was on the bench,” said Jordan Middle School Coach Tony Kusske.
But still, she faces challenges like figuring out where to change or finding special gear that fits correctly.
In addition, learning plays has been difficult, as her eighth grade year was her first time playing organized football, while many of the boys have had the opportunity to play as seventh graders or participate in other youth leagues and special summer camps.
“It didn’t do her any favors with the pandemic this year, because we didn’t do tackling drills at all until our first game,” said Coach Kusske. “That’s going to be her biggest hurdle – just to be willing to put her body on the line.”
While she always wanted to play the sport, following in her older brother’s footsteps who currently plays Varsity at Jordan, she got a late start because her mother, Becky Wessels, worried about her safety.
Eventually, Wessels reached out to the football coaches to see if it was even possible for her daughter to play.
“I asked them and said, ‘My daughter has been begging me for years. Is it doable; is it something she can pursue?’ They said, ‘Yeah, let her; we want her,’” she said.
Her coach said Bachand joining the team didn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
“She just showed up and jumped right in; it was no big deal. It didn’t seem any different. She was just another player,” he said.
As Bachand prepares to move up to the high school level, she’ll keep focusing on improving her physicality.
“I think she’s in a good spot. She’s got a pretty great support system; her mom is fantastic, and her brother is always there for her. I think she’s in a good spot to keep playing football,” said Coach Kusske.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Ary Bachand was the first girl to join the Jordan football team. Erin Hjelmeland played for the Hubmen in 92-93 and Paige Hotchkiss in 03-06.