CHARLES TOWN – Remember the saying “Anything men can do, women can do better”?
[cleeng_content id="106134537" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]Patriots’ kicker Kaleigh Pierce scores points in a man’s world
Washington High sports fans are seeing there’s some truth to the old adage, at least when it comes to kicking a football through a set of uprights.
Kaleigh Pierce has made school history as the Patriot’s first female football player. And the 17-year-old senior isn’t spending the season on the sidelines either.
The Patriots, 2-1 so far this season, have seen Kaleigh – a longtime soccer standout – come through with extra points in big wins against Berkeley County rivals Hedgesville and Spring Mills as well as in last week’s close loss to Virginia’s Sherando.
Many high schools don’t have a kicker trusted enough to send out for 20-yard extra points, so Kaleigh’s double-digit tally in just three games is a considerable feat.
Her road to the gridiron can be traced to last year’s homecoming powderpuff football game, when Kaleigh’s junior team defeated the seniors, thanks in part to her making on one of two field goal attempts.
Encouraged by her performance and by her soccer teammates, she decided to give it a shot and started attending football conditioning sessions in June.
“I’ve always liked watching football – I’m a Giants fan,” she said. “I thought it would be fun. On the girls soccer team, everyone always talks about kicking for the football team, but no one ever does it. I thought I had the ability, so I wanted to do it. I thought it would be different, a new experience.”
The reaction of the boys on the team wasn’t to tease or haze the girl in their midst.
“They were supportive,” Kaleigh said. “I think they were surprised, but I’d been talking about it all year. They’re really nice to me.”
Coach Mark Hash has been one of her biggest supporters from the start, she said, giving her a tee and encouraging her to practice over the summer.
Kaleigh said she’s made 40-yard field goals while kicking on her own and 35-yarders during organized practices.
While she initially thought she would be nervous each time she was called in to kick, Kaleigh said the jitters have been limited to the moments right before a game. When it’s time to go out and perform, she said she’s calm and focused.
“It’s like nothing else I’ve experienced,” Kaleigh said of her early success. “Everyone is so encouraging and supportive the whole time. There is a moment of calmness that occurs right before the ball is snapped for a kick and then after the ball goes through the uprights, I feel just a rush of adrenaline and just pure excitement. It’s so fun.”
She believes the source of some of the peace she feels on the field comes from the memory of a friend and soccer mentor who passed away when Kaleigh was a freshman. Chandler Upson died in a car crash following her senior season.
Kaleigh has “Chan” written on her cleats and says she feels the calming and encouraging presence of Chandler’s spirit whenever she’s competing.
“She’s always with me,” Kaleigh said.
Kaleigh also realizes she’s likely being seen as a role model for other young women considering football or other challenges.
“I know there’s going to be a reaction from it,” she said. “I just hope I can go out there a represent us girls the best I can.”
Jefferson’s JV team has female player too
Washington High’s Kayleigh Pierce isn’t the only Jefferson County girl to be suiting up to play football this year. Jefferson High’s Cougars have Elizabeth Starliper, a 5-foot-1, 125-pound, sophomore football player in its two-team program this season.
Listed as a running back/linebacker, Starliper is the first girl in decades to have a place on any Cougars’ roster. What makes her status on the team even more unusual is that she is listed as a running back/linebacker for the Cougars. Starliper is eligible to play in both junior varsity and varsity games for the Cougars.
— Bob Madison