11-Year-Old Football Star Proves That You Can’t Keep a Tough Girl Down


Last month TakePart reported the story of Caroline Pla, an 11-year-old football all-star who was booted from her local Catholic Youth Organization league. A little-known rule, unearthed by an opposing team, found that the Philadelphia CYO still had a discriminatory regulation on its books: Girls were barred from playing football because the sport was deemed too dangerous for them.

But after a media blitz—including a massive Change.org petition started by Pla’s mother—the CYO has finally relented.

According to Reuters, this week the archdiocese issued this public statement: “At the direction of the Archbishop, the Archdiocese will allow for co-ed participation in CYO football, effective in the 2013 season.”

The striking turnaround punctuated months of infighting between the league and Pla’s family, coaches and teammates who all campaigned to get her back on the field. According to anyone who watched her play, Pla brings more than enough athletic skills to the game to intimidate her opponents.

Jim Reichwein, a former coach and supporter, told Philly.com, “Guys were initially uncomfortable when they lined up against her. Some hesitated. Those that hesitated ended up getting put on their butt," he said. “She was strong, and she played the game the right way.”

In light of her dedication to the sport she’s been playing since she was just five years old, a panel of parents, coaches and clergy were brought together by the Philadelphia Archdiocese to finally decide Pla’s fate in the CYO league—and they voted to keep her out of it.

It wasn’t until Archbishop Chaput stepped in to personally reverse that decision that Pla finally won her reinstatement.

The girl’s mother, Seal Pla, told Reuters her daughter was ecstatic over the news. “She was jumping up and down, she was so happy,” she said. “Issues relating to how the church treats its young people are really important right now, and this is a huge, positive step forward.”

But as the junior high student explained in earlier interviews, she wasn’t simply fighting for herself. Seal Pla explained, “For Caroline, this was never about just her, but about all girls who want to play the sports they love. It was about allowing kids like Caroline the opportunity to grow physically and spiritually.”

And there are other girls who happily call the gridiron home. 9-year-old Sam “Sweet-Feet” Gordon, whose fancy on-field work can be seen in the video below, was just one of the 108,000 people who signed Pla's petition.

But there are more like her, such as Jasmine Plummer, who in 2003, was an 11-year-old that led her local team to victory in the Pop Warner Super Bowl. That year, college student Katie Hnida became the first woman to score in an NCAA Division I game when she played for the University of New Mexico. And last year, Florida’s Erin DiMeglio played backup quarterback for her high school's varsity team.

As for Caroline Pla, the entire ordeal can be chalked up to one important lesson she says will remain with her forever. She explained to Philly.com, “If there's something you don't like, you can change it.”

Well played, Caroline.

Would you let your daughter play football? Let us know in the Comments.

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A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and medical writer.  In addition to reporting the weekend news on TakePart, she volunteers as a webeditor for locally-based nonprofits and works as a freelance feature writer for TimeOutLA.com. Email Andri | @andritweets | TakePart.com