Written by Monica Holland
Westover Middle School has a couple of football players who don’t just break tackles; they break boundaries.
Alonnie Muldrow and Jazmine Church joined Coach Glenn Johnson Jr.’s Wildcats squad this season and played their way into roles as quarterback and linebacker, respectively.
It’s the first time Johnson has had girls on his football squad, but he says they’ve put in the work and they’re welcome to play.
“They’re always at practice, they’re always the first to do stuff, coachable,” he said. “You can put a lot on their plate and they can handle it.”
Johnson has put Muldrow under center as a starting quarterback for the Wildcats as the leader of the offense. She came to the middle school team with a few years of AAU experience as a member of the Fayetteville Guard and Johnson immediately recognized her skill.
“She knew the positions, what routes to run; put her at quarterback, she could man the huddle and all that stuff,” he said.
Muldrow, a 12-year-old seventh-grader, plays wide receiver and safety for the Guard. Her mother, Nicky, admitted to being fearful the first few times her daughter took the field.
“When she would get tackled or tackle somebody, I’d be like wait, wait, wait!” Nicky Muldrow said.
Her daughter played through a jammed wrist one weekend and Nicky knew then that Alonnie was tough enough to keep playing.
“She’s like, whatever the boys can do, I can do,” Nicky said. “She’s still loving, caring and very competitive.”
Church found her love for football as a youngster playing with her older brother, Junior, and cousins.
She cites mobility and discipline as her strengths, and she adds an element of vocal leadership to the Wildcats.
“Jazmine’s been telling me she was going to play since sixth grade, but they can’t play in sixth grade. Then seventh grade was the COVID year so she was mad about that,” Johnson said. “We finally got her out here this year.”
He wasn’t sure what to expect from the young ladies on his squad. But they soon showed him they meant business.
“They’re not afraid to hit. They fly around at tackling drills,” Johnson said of the girls.
He plays Church on special teams as well as outside and middle linebacker, and she’s fit right in.
“I feel like I’m one of the homies, one of the boys,” Church said.
“It’s easier if you see other females playing. It can encourage you to go out and try new things.
“There’s no pressure about it because all the guys on the team, they make you feel like you fit in.”
According to the National Federation of State High Schools Association (NFHS), 2,404 girls played 11-man tackle football on boys’ teams at the high school level during the 2018-19 school year. While the overall number of athletes participating in football are dropping, with a little more than a million participants in the 2018-19 season, the number of girls who play football is at its highest rate ever.
Church, 14, would like to add to that number.
“If I could play in high school, I would, most definitely,” she said.
Nicky Muldrow says she’ll support Alonnie if she wants to play in high school, too.
“Ultimately, it’s up to her. Whatever she wants to do, I’ll support her.”
Nicky sees benefits in Alonnie’s involvement with football and sports in general. She was a cheerleader and a member of the swim and track teams when she was in school.
“I think it’s been very good. You get positivity and you also get discipline. It teaches you moral values and good friendship. It helps out in the long run,” Nicky said.
Alonnie Muldrow says she likes the physical contact of tackle football and the feeling of winning, particularly over unsuspecting boys.
“It feels good, especially when we win because most of the teams that I go against, they don’t know that I’m a girl. So it feels good when they realize I’m a girl and they lost to a girl,” she said.
“It makes me feel like I can be an inspiration. Females don’t always like playing football so it makes me feel proud of myself.
“To all the girls that think they can’t play football or people say they can’t play football or sports that boys play, try it out. It’s gonna be fun,” Muldrow said.
The Wildcats got off to a good start, winning their first game, but they’ve had a hard time since and go into the regular-season finale with a 1-5 record.
Westover Middle ends its regular season Thursday at Anne Chestnutt with a 4 p.m. kickoff.
Church and Muldrow wouldn’t miss it. And maybe in the future, it won’t be so unusual to see girls like them in skill positions on football teams.
“I’m starting to notice a lot of females playing football,” Johnson said. “They want it just as much as anybody else wants it, so that’s a good thing.
“If you love the game, that’s all that matters.”
Sports editor Monica Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.