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Girls in Football : IT ISN'T WORKING OUT : They worry about broken bones more than broken fingernails, not to mention coaches and players with chips on their shoulders. : Impressions From a Short Career : Jarring Hit Helped Cyndi Bays Find Place Out of Football

October 30, 1986|HEATHER HAFNER

For a sophomore named Bays, one season on the Royal High football team was enough. She didn't make much of an impression on anyone during a short career in 1984, although being on the receiving end of a crushing tackle in a game against Channel Islands made a lasting impression on her.

She never really fit in with the rest of the Royal football players.

Perhaps it was the eye makeup.

Or the fingernail polish.

Two years have passed since Cyndi Bays' stint on the boys' football team ended. She is now a senior at Royal, left with two kinds of memories from the experience--bad and real bad.

Bays, a wide receiver and a member of the special teams, made only minimal contributions to that sophomore team. She caught no passes, and what she considers the highlight of her career would, in most girls' minds, be reason to file an insurance claim.

That moment came when she fielded a punt against Channel Islands. Unaware that a fair catch signal would safely return her to the sideline, Bays fielded the punt and was instantly spun around and decked by a speeding defensive player.

She walked off the field, feeling more like a grocery store turnstile than a football player.

But, by surviving the incident, Bays had scored a personal victory. Her coach, Gene Hatton, believes that hit helped Cyndi gain her teammates' respect.

"I think the majority of them were shocked that she was there, but they were very supportive of her," Hatton said. "The key was when she took a really good hit from one of the biggest players and got right up from it. She could have just walked away and said, 'That's it.' But once she'd been challenged and beat the challenge, she gained a lot of respect."

But today, Bays believes her teammates showed little respect and does not consider any of them friends. Even hallway passings are strained.

"We'll look at each other and maybe be civil and not say anything," Bays said. "I'm not friends with most of the guys. But I don't have as many bad feelings toward them now. I just look at them and think, 'You're a jerk.'

"They tried to ignore the fact that I was ever on the team because I wasn't really a big asset to it. But I wasn't bad for the team, because the team wasn't that good anyway. Right now, I guess I'm glad I played."

Perhaps not too glad.

During her sophomore season, while the cheerleaders donned their skirts, fixed their makeup and straightened the ribbons in their hair after school, Bays changed into cleats, shoulder pads and a helmet that left her hair matted and dirty.

Except for a softball catcher's chest protector she wore briefly at the beginning of the season, Bays' uniform was standard. So was her off-field behavior.

"My nickname during my sophomore year was Brute," she said. "Because I was playing such an aggressive sport, I didn't realize it, but it was going over into the rest of my life a lot. If somebody would say something I didn't like, I'd say 'shut up' and push them."

The boys weren't interested in dating a female football player, she said. But, some of her friends understood. They understood that football was a very physical sport, and would she leave them her clothes in her will? Some, like 17-year-old DeAnna Camarena, remained friends with Cyndi throughout the football phase of her life and admired Bays' determination.

"They toughened her up," Camarena said. "She was always more of a tomboy, but football just made her more so. I think she's grown out of it, though.

"There were jokes about her a lot. It's still the double-standard type stuff. A lot of guys didn't like it at all. She was on their turf. She's a very strong person, determined. She's not the kind that has to prove something to people. It was like she said 'This is something I want to do. If you don't like it, you can take it or leave it because this is the way I am.' "

Robby Martin, a starting linebacker on the Royal varsity, was one of Bays' most memorable teammates. At the time, however, he seemed more like a nightmare.

"One time, it was early on, someone was saying things about me, pretty loud," Bays said. "He was doing it on purpose so I could hear. He was saying, 'Girls shouldn't be on the team.' And, he was calling me all sorts of names, so I told him what he could do. Martin, one of the strongest guys on the team, one of the guys that most of the others wouldn't want to fight, then threatened to kick my butt."

Martin, who said he didn't threaten Bays, conceded that he didn't think she belonged on the team.

"She didn't have to do all the things that we did," Martin said. "We'd do hitting drills and they wouldn't let us hit her. She did some of the things with us, but when it came to the end of practice, she didn't run the equivalent that every one else did.

"The whole situation created a problem between the players and the coaches. The respect for the coaches went down when she wasn't treated like the rest of the players."

Hatton insists that Bays was treated as an equal.

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