By Sofie Paternite, Sports Co-Editor

Women have been influential sports figures since the days of Kathrine Switzer, Gertrude Erdele and Billie Jean King. These women, and those that followed, have acted as role models, and have motivated more female athletes to defy societal norms. Recently, that has taken its largest form with Sarah Fuller.

AP Photo/L.G. Patterson

Fuller is a senior at Vanderbilt University, where she plays goalkeeper for the women’s soccer team. When the football team’s kicker opted out of the season due to COVID-19 safety concerns, and the backup kicker was unavailable due to COVID protocols, the coaching staff was limited with their options. So, on Nov. 28, 2020, they asked Fuller to step in to play kicker for the Vanderbilt Commodores. Fuller proved herself in her first game, as she gave sideline pep talks to the team and was a large presence on the field with her notable kickoff. She was added to the official roster for the following contest, and kicked the extra point through the uprights, making her the first woman to score in a Power Five game. Additionally, she is now recognized as the first woman to play in a Power Five conference, the third woman to play in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and was named the SEC Co-Special Teams Player of the Week for the week of her first game. Her jersey was also added to the College Football Hall of Fame in Dec. 2020.

One highlight of Fuller’s first game was her display of the quote, “Play Like a Girl,” on the back of her helmet. She utilized the doubt from college football’s audience as an incentive to play her best and make a statement: she was not going to let her gender minimize her presence on the field. Claire D’Andrea, ‘21, said, “I am impressed with the barrier she broke and the change that will hopefully come from her skills and bravery…  [Fuller] show[ed] younger female athletes that they can do anything they set their mind[s] to.”

This same mentality carries over to the Columbia High School (CHS) community, as female and male sports teams with collective matches have a strong dynamic for success. Athletes on the swim and fencing teams work in a unified way. Lena Finnamore, ‘21, said, “The boys team and the girls team work very closely and go through the same training.” She added, “we have created a community where we don’t have to worry about dynamics.”

Source: Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press and Ned Dishman/AP

In contrast to the swim team, members of the fencing team have felt their efforts be minimized by gender. Lena Skagerlind, ‘21, said, “In competitions, there was a little more emphasis on the boys matches.”

While the swim and fencing team have generally worked harmoniously in their respective sports, the breakthrough in desegregating gender specific sports that Fuller sparked has not yet reached the CHS football team. However, if done, Nick Aaron, ‘21, said, “I would have no problem with a female teammate on the football team… [she] would be treated just like any other player as long as she worked hard like the rest of us.” Corteney Provilon-Louis, ‘21, agreed with Aaron and said, “I wouldn’t mind [a boy on the girls basketball team]… let’s not get stuck in these gender roles.”

Girls varsity basketball assistant coach Aaron Breitman added, “I don’t treat girls any different[ly] than I do boys… In fact, sometimes I think [girls] are tougher and can take more [criticism].” He continued, “I have no problem with [a boy on the girls basketball team]. I treat everybody the same. If that’s what the school allowed, I would have no problem with it.”
Overall, the changing dynamic and acceptance of female figures in sports has been a long ignited spark in society, and will continue to be aflame so long as women keep making history. There are many unheard of actions that will put outdated beliefs to a close as the world enters a new period of reform. Athletes like Sarah Fuller prove that change is possible even in historically male-dominated sports like football, and she will likely continue to be an inspiration for generations.

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