Every day for sports, Ally Feiss hikes down to the soccer field, laces up her cleats and joins the team in warmup drills and scrimmages.
The OVS sophomore expertly maneuvers the ball around cones, and sprints into position to receive each pass. She pushes and shoves as she battles for the ball, holding her own against the best players.
This would be difficult in any setting. But seeing as Ally is the only girl on a team of 19 boys, the feat is even that much tougher.
And more impressive.
At the beginning of winter sports, the girls’ soccer season was cancelled because not enough girls had signed up to play.
Enter the classic scenario of wanting something you can’t have.
Ally had been thinking about joining the running elective over the winter season, but after learning that the girls’ season had been eliminated, she realized she really wanted to participate in the game she has played for nearly a dozen years.
So she decided to go down to the boys practice the first day to give it a try, and now, nearly two months into the season, she is starting some of the games and emerging as a key member of the squad.
“I think it’s definitely going to make me a better player,” Ally said. “It’s hard being the only girl. But it’s fun, and it definitely gives me insight on how a boys’ team works together, which is completely different from a girls’ team.”
Once an anomaly, girls playing soccer is now no big deal.
There are nearly 400,000 girls who play high school soccer in the United States. Soccer is quickly becoming an increasingly popular sport among high school athletes, surpassing girls’ softball as the fourth most popular girls’ high school sport.
While instances of girls playing on a boys’ team is rare, it is not unheard of.
In Pennsylvania, freshman Kayla Franklin is the leading scorer this year on her high school boys’ team. River Road High School in Amarillo, Texas, has four girls on its team, one of whom is a starter. And there are several instances of girls playing football and baseball, including two girls last year who played baseball for Ojai Valley School.
But at OVS, this is the first time in recent memory that a girl has played soccer on the boys’ team.
“It’s nice to have a young lady who is talented and loves the game,” said OVS soccer coach Carl Cooper, who doubles as head of the high school campus. “She has the understanding of what it takes for a team to be successful and is willing to do what is necessary to make that happen. Oftentimes we confuse important issues with ones that aren’t as valid, and in terms of gender and participation, that should not be an issue.”
Ally herself was a youth player, beginning her career at the age of five. Her sister, Asia, played as well, and had a big influence on Ally’s love of the game. Although Ally’s level of participation in the game has varied over the years, the sport has remained a fixture in her life through youth, club, and now high school teams.
Five days a week, Ally practices with the boys. She fits in just like any other player, and pulls her weight during practices and games.
“I think it’s great that she’s playing boys’ soccer,” said team captain Min Ung Choi, who is playing with a girl for the first time. “She is also one of the hardest workers on the team.”
In the first game against Cate, Ally was a starter. While nerve-wracking for her, she was excited to go out and play with the boys. She held her own, making plays and fighting for the ball. She has played in every game since, helping her team rattle off four wins in a row and earn a 4-1 record so far on the season.
“It’s very different than [playing] with girls,” Ally said of her experience playing with the boys. “It’s kind of intimidating, but it makes me work harder because I want to beat them.”
Photos contributed by OVS student-journalists Daphne Psaledakis and Kai Lin.