Last fall I did a series of stories on females in high school football. I have three specific additions, out of many, to the list of females playing the game that I find interesting. I did my “BREAKING BARRIERS” series on females last October.
In January I went down” the rabbit hole” …not to be confused by the upcoming Kiefer Sutherland tv show on Paramount+ since that starts March 26. I started to do some national research on some teams that claimed the 1935 mythical championship. How I started is a long story but in doing so I ran across an interesting story from 1935.
While looking up scores in Newspapers.com for the 1935 Knoxville (TN) High School team (The school didn’t print a yearbook for me to reference scores that year because money was tight due to the Depression) I was forced to look at the Ashville (NC) Citizen-Times for a score that wasn’t in the Knoxville newspaper. Knoxville played Ashville, in Ashville, and the story of the game was in that paper. Right below the game story was an intriguing headline from the November 5 edition.
Going back to my blogs on females playing football I told the story of Luverne “Toad” Wise from Alabama who I declared that in 1938 was the first female to play high school football. Well, that’s almost true. Wise played on a varsity football team for two seasons. The story I found had the headlines “Girl Center Leads Connecticut Grid Team To Victory.”
The story concerned a girl from Middlefield (CT), playing for a team called the Middlefield Air Cadets named Esther Burnham, three seasons before Wise. The Associated Press story hinted that she was in a high school game. But here is where the story gets muddled. Esther was a freshman in high school at state powerhouse Middleton High School. The “CENTER” of attention lived just outside of Middleton but as I learned she attended the high school there, but the question was “Who were the Middlefield Air Cadets?” Middlefield is only about three miles from Middleton. The village had their own high school so why was she playing for the team? The newspaper stories that were available, were sparse as there aren’t a lot of Connecticut papers on Newspapers.com to review. The initial AP story that I found in the Ashville paper was also posted in several other papers around the country. Several additional stories that were written by the Associated Press made it seem that Esther attended high school in Middlefield. She did not as the initial story noted that she was attending Middleton. I couldn’t find any additional information about the Air Cadets, so I think they were a collection of students that didn’t play varsity football for any of the area high schools. Sort of like an older baseball little league team. They did play a few smaller high schools but also several “All-Star” teams.
Esther didn’t end up playing in her last three high school years for the Middlefield Air Cadets nor for the Middleton High School. In fact, other than a few local stories or articles posted by the Associated Press in 1935, I find no further record of Esther. The story that caught my attention mentions that this was Esther’s second season on the team so it must have been an All-Star team of their own. She started playing as an 8th grader. There may have been a few other females nationally that played football, Luverne Wise probably was the first be on a high school varsity team. I’m not putting in the AP story that I found in the Ashville paper but one that appeared in a more local edition, The Meridian Journal (CT) November 4, 1935, a few days after the AP story, dated November 2, 1935. (Sorry for the blurry picture)
The one aspect of playing on November 3 against Fall River was that The Meridian and other local papers had made such a big deal about a female playing football that Esther sat in her parents’ car for much of the game before the coach called her to enter. So many fans had shown up she with so many cameras she was nervous. But with the game scoreless at the half, she joined her teammates and was able to block a punt that led to her team’s 6-0 victory. As the game wound down, she ran off the field asking people to leave her alone and to not take her picture. She just wanted to play football and not make a scene. There would be several ore games left on the schedule and she played in them both after having overcome her fear of the publicity. She was a novelty of the time and wasn’t ready to be in the limelight.
Today, females seem to be more at ease with the crowds or the press as their coaches are their buffers.
There had been a number of females in high school football who had been kickers, and several were truly very good. A number were profiled in a 2012 MaxPreps.com article… Top 10 greatest female kickers in high school football history - MaxPreps.
Recently, one such kicker named Allison Chang of Iolani High in Honolulu (HI) made some headlines in the 2021-22 seasons as she kicked 98 extra points and 15 field goals. Allison saw herself as a role model for other girls who want to participate in the sport. She knew that playing other positions would be tough, but she liked the way a predecessor, Mika Makekau, had played for the team (2015-18) as the star kicker and she was drawn to the game. In several 7-on-7 scrimmages Allison had played defense and knew how to tackle but her size led her to staying with kicking. She was on the team for four seasons, but it was her last two when she started. In 2022 she was named to the Special Teams Player of the Year on the Cover2 Hawaii Awards. Besides being a role model, she wants to be known as a good person and student who can do more than just kick. She earned respect from her teammates and others for being the good person she is.
Place-kicker Allison Chang (Image credit: Nick Abramo/Bedrock Sports Hawaii)
Another standout is Bella Rasmussen of Laguna Beach (CA) who not only scored two rushing touchdowns in a game against Godinez High in a 48-0 win on October 14 but played in seven games over two seasons as a backup running back. But more notoriety came her way after her senior season completed.
Bella Rasmussen Photo by Michael Goulding/ IMAGO from Sports Illustrated Magazine
Bella is a raved Los Angeles Chargers fan and after the October 14, 2022, game she was suddenly in the spotlight not only in California and also nationally. The Chargers supported her after finding out she was a fan and that led to a major change in her life. She was picked to be in a prime Super Bowl commercial sponsored by the NFL titled “Run With It” featuring the Mexican national flag football team and their star Diana Flores. She also became the first girl as a high school football player in California to sign an NIL contract. She signed a contract with KeyWise which is an app that focuses on people’s mental health.
Read the entire Sports Illustrated story for a more Indepth story at: How high school football star Bella Rasmussen made it to the Super Bowl - Sports Illustrated
While Esther Burnham was a forerunner to Luverne “Toad” Wise leading to today’s female players…Allison Chang and Bella Rasmussen. They have taken up the gauntlet as role models for those who follow.