FOLSOM, Pa. (AP) — It was about five years ago when Prospect Park youth football coach Dave Crispin was handing out equipment to players before the season began.
He'd brought his children along and one of his daughters came and said another sibling wanted to play. That sibling turned out to be his other daughter, Sarah. At first, Crispin admits, he didn't know what to think. But it only took a couple of moments for him to realize he had to at least let her try.
"I said, 'You want to play football?' " Crispin said. "I said if you want to try it, you can if you want to. I told her she had to try it for at least two weeks. I usually tell my kids once they start they have to play for a whole season."
Well, the two weeks wasn't a problem. In fact, it's now turned into five seasons. This season, Sarah is playing for the Ridley Raiders in the Bert Bell Memorial Football Conference 11- and 12-year-old league on the 120-pound-and-under squad, which also includes her stepbrother, Austin McCullough. There are 20 teams in the league and they play eight games on the season. Sarah Crispin plays fullback on offense and is the defensive captain where she calls the signals and plays right end and sometimes middle linebacker. Crispin is also playing for the Ridley Middle School lightweight team.
Sarah Crispin said she is accustomed to playing in an almost exclusively male sport.
"I was nervous at first," she said. "People were always pointing out that I am a girl. I was afraid that I was going to mess up."
But that fear has since subsided, even though she often hears such comments from opposing players these days when they are in the weigh-in lines before each game.
But she proves she belongs once the game starts. Wearing No. 13 for her youth league team this year, there was no way to tell whether it was a male or female under the helmet and pads by the way she played in a recent game at Rose Tree Elementary School. In fact, she narrowly missed an interception in the first quarter of that game.
"My dad helps me a lot and my teammates help me a lot," Sarah Crispin said. "I'm just hoping to get better."
Sarah Crispin's teammates already respect her ability.
"She's pretty good," said quarterback Sean Hinchey, who is also on her team at Ridley Middle School. "We don't hear too much from people. We are just here to play football."
According to Dave Crispin, who has coached youth football for 15 years, she is one of the better hitters on the team.
"You look at her and she's probably like 105 pounds," he said. "But it's her technique."
Sarah Crispin learns technique in another athletic activity as well in the fall. Along with being on two football teams, she is also a competitive cheerleader for the Kedron Youth Association in Ridley Township.
"She just came from four hours of cheerleading before the game today," Dave Crispin said before the game at Rose Tree Elementary. "And she has cheerleading every day before our practices."
Just when or if cheerleading will win out over football is a bit of a question. For the Ridley Middle School years, there are weight-restricted teams. But for now, Dave Crispin feels pretty good about seeing her on the field.
"I can put her anywhere out there and she doesn't complain," Dave Crispin said.
However, once she reaches her freshman year at Ridley High School, there are no weight restrictions and Dave Crispin knows that may well be a different kind of game for his daughter.
"When she's a freshman and there is unlimited weight, what she does after that, who knows?" he said.
What she will do in the meantime is continue to prove the doubters on other teams wrong. That's because her teammates hear the "girl on the other team" chatter, as well, but they are glad she is on their side.
"I'm thinking, 'Hey man,'" said Hinchey, "'she's probably better than you.'
Information from: Delaware County Daily Times, http://www.delcotimes.com