Two young women are making history at a middle school in Oxford, Miss. The first is Aniah Echols, a seventh-grader at Oxford Middle School (OMS), who has become the first female to join the Oxford Chargers. Already her head coach considers her to be one of the team's best lineman. The second is Megan Wolfe, an English teacher at the school and a current member of the defensive line for the Mississippi Lady Panthers, who will serve as the school's first female assistant coach.
According to OMS head coach Mike Hardwick, other girls have tried out for the team, but none have made it past fall practice or ever played in a game. Aniah not only made it through training, but she’s also a starting player on the team whose record is currently 2-0.
"It's a sport that I grew up playing since I was like four or five, but I was never really accepted on the school team. So, I would just play with my brother and my cousins," Aniah told the Clarion Ledger. "I think it's pretty cool that they allow me as a girl and [a person of] my color to play. At my other school they were like, 'Heck no.'"
Aniah, who is also a black belt and a gold medalist in taekwondo, according to OMS, admits that she was nervous when it came to facing off with the other guys — but when she made her first big hit, she felt like she belonged on that team.
“I have eight boy cousins that played football all the time, so I wanted to play, too. But my grandmother wouldn’t let us tackle, so this is a little different,” Aniah said in a statement from the school. “Once I got my first good hit, I thought, ‘Hey, this isn’t that bad.’”
While no one on the Oxford Chargers has had an issue with Aniah playing or on other teams they've faced off with so far, she admits she has gotten a few dirty looks.
"We have a team of 40 brothers and one sister," head coach Hardwick said. "We look out for our sister, and our sister has 40 brothers if there is a problem."
Also joining the team is the school's first female assistant coach, Wolfe. While she wasn't allowed to play football when she was in school, she will play on the defensive line in Mississippi's Women's Football League team in Jackson, the Lady Panthers, in this upcoming season.
"We get the looks," Wolfe told WTVA. "Aniah and I have talked about it, and we expect it. We talked about how to handle it, and that's to be expected."
Referring to Aniah, Wolfe said: "We bonded and we've gotten that together because we are two females on an all-male team. She holds her own. I hold my own, and we have a very sturdy table, as I like to say, at Oxford Middle School because we're holding it down for the girls."
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