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Gridiron Girls : 3 Have Earned Respect Trying Out at Garfield


They weren't met with jeers or laughter, but Ana Karina Guerrero, Maria Medrano and Adela Vidal certainly turned heads when they first took the field at Garfield High School.

The three pioneers in the making are attempting to become the first girls in the school's 68-year history to play football. They are trying out for the B football program, also known as the exponent system, under which a player's age, weight and size are used to determine on which team he--or she, if the girls get their way--plays.

From 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, Guerrero and Vidal, both 18 and seniors, and Medrano, a 16-year-old junior, can be found at the school in East Los Angeles tackling padded dummies, scuffling in the dirt and mud, lugging around heavy equipment and taking part in the strenuous physical workouts that invariably result in aches and pains.

So why are they willing to risk bumps and bruises and possibly more serious injury? Are they out to prove that girls can compete just as well as boys?

That's certainly part of it, but when you get right down to it, the girls just want to have fun.

"This is something crazy for my senior year," Vidal said. "I can look back and laugh and be proud at the same time."

For Guerrero, who turned down a spot on the boys' junior varsity basketball team to try out for football, fun means lots of hard-hitting contact.

"I don't like playing with girls, because they get hurt easily and I like to hit people," Guerrero said. "My dad thought I might hurt someone because I play so rough."

That sort of enthusiasm, coupled with serious hard work, quickly tempered the initial reluctance of the boys who are vying for a spot in the lineup.

"When the girls first showed up to practice, I think a lot of (the team was) surprised, but the girls have proven that they belong here," said B team junior fullback David Diaz. "They have guts . . . and they play better than some of the sophomores."

Added offensive line coach Frank Galvan: "They all try hard and never complain. They are even starting to push some of the guys, because they see how much effort the girls put into practice."

The coaches and players on the team emphasized that the girls have not received any special treatment since they showed up for tryouts. They are subjected to the same drills and workouts as other players, although Galvan said a few special concessions have been made.

Players must now wear either shorts or football pants at all times in the locker room. "We used to let the guys walk around in their underwear in the locker room, but that will not be allowed anymore," Galvan said. And on game days, a coach will escort them to the girls' locker room to get dressed and then back to the boys' locker room. At the tryouts, the boys have been instructed to curb abusive language on the field and in the locker room.

Galvan admitted that he is more concerned for the girls' physical well-being than their supposedly sensitive ears.

"Sometimes I get concerned that the girls may get hurt," Galvan said. "But the girls are here to play football, and injury is a hazard of the sport.

That has become quickly evident to Medrano, who started practice about one month ago.

"When I first started practicing, I would go home and could barely move," she said. "But just like anything else, after a while, I got used to it."

The girls also hope that, like anything else, their opponents will get used to playing against them.

"Some of the guys that we play against won't think we're good because we're girls," said Guerrero, whose dirt-stained shorts failed to hide the strawberry-colored bruises on her knees. She added that any opponent who uses sexist slurs in attempts to upset her will find that it will only motivate her to "try even harder to knock him on his ass."

"Chauvinism keeps us going," Guerrero said.

Not to mention a deep-seated love of the sport, the girls said.

Medrano, who has been a member of Garfield's girls' basketball team and swim team, has played against boys in a co-ed flag football league in City Terrace Park. "I used to play with my older brother Mario in the parks. I have grown up playing flag and tackle football, so this is nothing new," she said.

Flag football differs from regular football in that a team fields seven players instead of 11, passing is emphasized instead of running because plays cannot be designed to go up the middle, and the ball carrier is considered tackled when his or her flag is removed.

Vidal, who has participated in junior varsity softball and cheerleading and has been a member of the drill team, said her involvement in the annual Powder Puff Game--a flag football game in which the sophomore and junior girls play the seniors--helped spark her desire to play for Garfield.

"Being caught up in the competition and school spirit made me want to be around this atmosphere more often," Vidal said.

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