“The First Touchdown” …From my book, THE GREAT TEAMS
“On October 26, 1979, with the ball on Mineral Point’s 1-yard line, leading 16-0 in the third quarter, coach John Moreland of Mount Horeb substituted one of his running backs. The back carried on the next play but was thrown for a 1-yard loss. On the next play the team got that yard back. The substitute carried the ball once more and scored a touchdown, giving Mount Horeb a 22-0 lead. That running back was 17-year-old junior, Donna Wilborn. At 5’4”, 124 lbs., Donna became the first female to score a touchdown in a Wisconsin varsity high school game.”
NOTE: After extensive research I believe that not only was Donna Wilborn the first Wisconsin female to score a touchdown but also the first female nationally to score a touchdown in a varsity high school game. One more thing, when I wrote the book my information had Verona as the opponent but after printing the book, I found that the correct foe was Mineral Point.
On Friday, September 3, 1982, two Milwaukee area females made national headlines just as Luverne, Frankie and Donna had. Judy Jackson and Vicki Smith fulfilled their dream and played varsity football. Stories about them were in the Chicago Tribune, the New Your Times and the Saint George Utah Daily Spectrum had highlighted stories about the two. Jackson, a 5’9, 185-pound junior for Milwaukee Juneau started at tackle in a 16-0 loss to University School. She did a respectable job playing both ways and the guys didn’t pay much attention to her presence. Both coaches were complimentary of how she played.
Vicki Smith played for the first time that same night when her Shorewood team lost to Port Washington 27-0. Jackson would be a regular but Smith, a 5-7 ½, 160-pound junior middle guard would only get in for two plays that night and play sporadically the rest of the season. Smith had played on the freshman-sophomore team for two years. She moved up to varsity but after the first scrimmage in 1982 she quit the team and then, over the weekend reconsidered and rejoined the team. She had already put so much into the sport she couldn’t walk away. They were pictured along with their teammates in the school yearbooks for 1983 and 1984.
Following these trailblazers, something they really didn’t consider themselves. The state saw a few females play as time went on but all I can find are kickers.
Also from my book:
“In addition to Donna, a special mention should be made about one of the other most notable Wisconsin female varsity football players. That is Kassy McCarthy of 2009 state champion Waunakee. As the team’s placekicker, Kassy made 72 of 72 extra point attempts and 2 of 4 field goals. In the Division 2 state title game, a Waunakee 34-21 win against Kimberly, she was 4 for 4 in extra points but missed a 34-yard field goal attempt that had plenty of distance but went wide right. After the game, Kassy told reporters that she would like to kick for the UW Badgers and hoped she could try out for the team in 2010. McCarthy turned down D-3 soccer scholarship offers (she was a goalkeeper) and when UW-Platteville stepped up and offered her the opportunity to kick for them she signed with the Pioneers. A week or two into fall practice Kassy was injured and she dropped her dream of kicking for a college football team. McCarthy earned Second Team All-State by the AP in 2009. In 2012, Kevin Askeland of MaxPreps.com named Kassy #10 on the list of the best female high school kickers of all-time.”
There was only one honorable mention on Kevin Askeland’s top 10 list. That name was Luverne Wise.
Since 2009 there have been a few more female players on varsity teams in Wisconsin. As mentioned, most have been kickers. But as recently as 2016 Badger High School had a female, Maddie Northern, who was a backup quarterback. She didn’t get into a game and she did receive a significant injury and as a result left the team. According to Coach Matt Hensler, Maddie was a pleasure to coach and he heard that she did later play a bit for an adult female Madison team.
2019 brought a new player to the Stevens Point Pacelli team. Lydiah Kildahl played her senior year as an offensive and defensive lineman. She played six games on defense and seven on offense. She had wanted to go out for the 2018 team but couldn’t because of mono. She wore #63, the same number her dad wore when he played for Antigo. In addition, three players from the Chippewa Valley drew attention. Taylor Schulz was a backup fullback/linebacker for Rice Lake earning just brief playing time. Emma Novak-Bougie and Kylie VanDong played for Fall Creek. They both were on the team but also didn’t receive any significant game time.
It was senior and homecoming nights for Pewaukee and senior Ava Metz was under center at the start of the game on October 7, 2022. She took the first snap then turned the quarterback duties to sophomore Owen Dobberstein. Owen directed the team to a 45-6 lead when he was replaced by Metz. With 7:24 left in the second quarter 11-player history was made. The called play was a run. There was bad blocking by the line and as Ava went to hand the ball off, she was hit, and the ball popped in the air and went to senior fullback Matthew Ciesielczyk who took the ball 10-yards for a touchdown. Coach Justin Friske and his assistants ruled it a pass since the ball seemed to go forward in the air. OK, not a real bullet pass but a pass none the less. Not only is this event the first pass by a female in a varsity 11-player game but the first completion and the first touchdown pass. In my research I haven’t found another female in America to have ever recorded this feat. TV channel 12 recorded the play… Girl quarterback starts Pewaukee High School's homecoming game (wisn.com)
Two weeks earlier on September 24, backup quarterback Arianna Patenaude, playing for Winter/Birchwood passed 1-1-0-17-1 in a 16-39 loss to Northwood/Solon Springs. Several weeks before that game she started against Frederic and Clayton tossing 11 and 18 passes in those games. The one touchdown she threw in the Northwood/Solon Springs game is the first ever in an 8-player game in Wisconsin and maybe ever in the United States. She is probably the first ever nationally to start and play two complete games as a quarterback.
The week before the Pewaukee-Pius game, a sophomore for Washburn carried the ball five times for 32 yards and a touchdown. Sieanna Sandor also played linebacker and did the kicking. She is a very good soccer player and is one of the state’s best downhill skiers. Her coach, Adam Coykendall, is quoted in the Daily Press article as saying “She makes our team better in both our quality of play and in the quality of our team.”
I did additional research on females playing football. There isn’t much female participation information online and I found a few players missing from a Wikipedia page on female football players. Another site, STATISTA.com posts information about participation of football. In 2009 there were 1,249 females playing 11-player football vs. 1,109,278 males. By this season the numbers were 3,094 females and 973,792 males. There are several factors here. First, those totals don’t mean all of these students are playing varsity ball. No official records are split between varsity and non-varsity participation. The number of males may have dropped because of COVID where some lost interest. That is a factor MPS attributes to a reason for low turnout in many of their schools. The MPS schools didn’t play football for two seasons. However, COVID didn’t seem to hold back female participation nationally. Parents worrying about concussions is another factor for the downturn in male participation.
I contacted Todd Clark, the Communications Director at the WIAA, asking if they had any stats on females playing football in the state. A message was sent out to all the schools, and he only received six replies. Two females are on various freshman or JV teams, and the other four are on varsity squads. Two are on 8-player teams and two are on 11-player teams. All appear to be backups except for Adrianna Patenaude who is an occasional starter. Clark didn’t receive a reply from Washburn so that makes seven known Wisconsin females playing this year. There probably are a few more out there this season. Know of any? Let me know.
Almost all of the coaches I’ve talked to or read about say the same thing that Washburn coach Adam Coykendall had to say about his player, Sieanna Sandor. The females are a pleasure to coach. They work hard. However, the coaches all express concern for the females’ safety. As with males who are slight in size, injury is a possible factor in the coaches being leery of having such a player. In 1939 and 1947, the largest player on either the Atmore or the Stinnett football teams was someone weighing about 170-175 pounds. Today’s male players are, for the most part, much larger, stronger and faster.
In the 1930’s and 1940’s the press was sexist in reporting the playing of Luverne Wise and Frankie Groves. If you look at the video of Luverne, you will see that the coach and the press played her up as a pretty girl who didn’t muss her lipstick. The press in 1947 made some of the same comments about Frankie. The Dallas Morning News reported “With her brown hair curling out from her headgear. the blue-eyed diminutive 16-year-old girl athlete got knocked down only once and astonished spectators on her last play by somehow bowling over two opposing linemen…All this, fans, without smearing her lipstick or without losing her enthusiasm for the game.” She was also reported as saying “I flat ran right into them. I guess I got a little rough.” She didn’t wear makeup then.
Yes, the game is rough but to play up the female’s “softness” is a disservice to all. Today, the only paint that females wear in a game might be the glare paint under their eyes. They are here to compete not be in a beauty contest. They want to be taken seriously. It certainly isn’t for everyone, male or female, but it should be a rewarding experience for all who play, and it should be kept positive.
I also just saw this story after I wrote the above blog. Take a look: Female High School Football Player Is An Inspiration Playing An Unlikely Position (msn.com)