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Pacifica's Tough Girls Trade In Pumps for Cleats

Sports: Two resolute 14-year-olds tackle a boy's world on Garden Grove high school's frosh football team. Anyone want to bet they won't make it?

September 08, 1996|CATHY WERBLIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

GARDEN GROVE — Numbers 28 and 58 looked just like the rest of the freshman football players on the Pacifica High practice field the other day, their blue and white uniforms, silver helmets and assorted pads making them indistinguishable from the other 50 players running sprints and practicing drills.

"I was standing out there and asked if I looked like a guy or a girl," No. 58 said. "They don't know who I am with all that equipment."

No. 58 is in fact a girl, 14-year-old Sandra Barrera. So is No. 28, 14-year-old Sarah Moranville. Together, they have become the first females to play freshman football in the Garden Grove School District, the county's second largest.

So far, the girls and their teammates have not been fazed by the distinction, reached Thursday, a day after district officials reversed a long-standing policy excluding girls from participating in contact sports with boys.

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"We're excited, very excited," the 5-foot-8-inch, 200-pound Barrera said after her first day of practice as a linebacker. "We're glad they gave us a chance. We won our rights and our chance."

Barrera, who estimated that she is about the fifth-largest player on the freshman team, said the only thing she really fears about playing football is losing.

That fear will be put to the test Sept. 19, when Barrera and Moranville become eligible for their first game--an afternoon away contest with Huntington Beach High School.

They missed the team's first game Thursday because the delay in allowing them to play forced them to miss some of the required 10 practices before playing in a game.

Although the two say they decided together to go out for football, Moranville appears to be the motivating force. "I saw a girl on the news a few years ago who played football, and that gave me an idea of what I wanted to do," said the 4-foot-11, 125-pound running back and Dallas Cowboys fan.

Both Moranville and Barrera played intramural flag football during their three years at Bell Intermediate School, but neither has much experience in the realities of tackle football. Jim Monahan, Bell's principal last year, said the intramural program includes play between boys and girls, but "can't equate with competitive sports."

In choosing to sign up for football at Pacifica, the pair said they considered Barrera's size and Moranville's speed as assets to the team. Both attended the school's six-week summer training camp, but initially they weren't allowed to formally join the team.

Concerned about the safety of girls playing a contact game against boys, officials until Wednesday had enforced a policy forbidding girls to compete with boys in such sports as football, wrestling and water polo.

But other schools across the country, including Estancia High in Costa Mesa, have allowed girls to play on such teams with boys and district lawyers suggested reversing the policy, said Joyce Johnson, president of the Board of Education.

"There are dangers in football," Johnson said. "Maybe these are special girls who have a wonderful talent. We'll find out."

Pacifica Principal Peggy Mahfood said that despite initial resistance to having girls on a boys team, players have been counseled not to treat Moranville and Barrera differently from other members of the team.

"Once they put the helmets on, you can't tell the difference," Mahfood said. "They are players, and they'll be treated like all other players. They aren't hit any less or any harder than anybody else."

Pacifica students primarily voiced support for the pair, although some male athletes have protested girls playing football.

"It's a guy sport," said senior water polo player Andy Buck, 17. "If the guys have to be physical like that with girls, its a bad image."

But Wendi Slaughter, a 16-year-old member of the track team, said she supports the girls. "If the girls have enough guts to play against the boys, they should be able to play," she said.

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Despite all the fuss over Barrera and Moranville in Garden Grove, 14-year-old freshman Jill Dyer at Estancia High School in Costa Mesa walked on the field last week and was given a spot on the team without fanfare.

"She's out there. We had no problem letting her on the team," said said Bill Wetzel, Estancia's assistant principal.

Art Perry, activities director and assistant varsity football coach, said the school has high hopes for Dyer, a 5-foot-4, 120-pound wingback.

"We have to be open-minded," he said. "We have changed with the times."

Football is not the only sport on the minds of Barrera and Moranville.

Moranville plays soccer, softball, roller hockey, basketball and takes gymnastics in addition to football. She said her family has been supportive of her efforts.

Barrera confessed that her first love is soccer. The teen raised some eyebrows Thursday when she left practice early to pick up her soccer game schedule. "If I had to make [an either/or] decision, I'd go for soccer," she said.

Barrera's family immigrated from Uruguay just before her birth, and they are passionate about soccer, she said. She has been playing the sport for nine years and believes the physical demands of soccer have prepared her for football.

Now, both say they are ready for action and not intimidated by their teammates or opponents.

Said Moranville: "I can take the big guys down."

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