Girls can aspire to be anything. Girls can break into whatever they want to. Girls can be a part of what men claim to be theirs. Football is no exception to those rules. When I was younger I never thought sports photography would be my “thing”. I didn’t play a single sport in school. I only watched games with some interest growing up - having memories of watching baseball with my dad and not truly understanding the love my grandfather and mom had for NASCAR (I’m still trying to figure that one out). I knew the rules of football, sure, but it was never something I truly loved. I was more of a soccer person, if that. It wasn’t until I started taking pictures of high school football years ago that I truly understood the phenomena. Though I was looking through my lens at a game that has been a part of American culture for decades, I was also immersed in the community pride, the obsession, and the fascination football holds in Northwest Indiana. It’s hard to break away from that grip once I truly understood what it stands for, and what it can create.
I am a girl in the boys world. I am the 5’4, lipstick toting, chunky-heeled shoe wearing one with a camera. It’s not only the guys that wear helmets and headsets that outnumber me, but it’s also the men on the sidelines. I am not the only female from around the region who have held their spot behind the thick white lines (I work with some of them) but on any given night I am the lone wolf running up and down (and sometimes on) the field to capture the entire experience of “Friday night lights”. Historically I’m not supposed to thrive in this arena. Currently, I am. Women across the country are on the sidelines of NFL games, championship games and Superbowls, but that’s still only a handful. In Northwest Indiana it’s less than a handful, more like counting off fingers. One day it will increase, and I can’t wait for that time to come.
It needs to come.
The most important realization from my experiences within the high school football world isn’t from sobering abundance of testosterone, it’s about the creed that I had been missing. Football isn’t about competition and trophies, it’s about the heart of the game. It’s the reason that so many people are passionate about this sport, why droves of fans show up to support a team. Their team. Making that connection is when I realized how much character is in football around our part of the state. From the northernmost corner of tiny Whiting to the Wolves of Michigan City, football pulsates and pours out through our communities - and this year has had no shortage of teams who were stimulating that passion.
Football is exciting to watch, to cheer for, and keep track of but the exhilarating part of the culture is when what happens off the field inspires the actions on it. I’ve been on the sidelines of region games every Friday night this past season. That’s thirteen weeks of wins, losses, and milestones. Games that lead up to Portage making it to post-season despite not winning a single regular season match, and Lowell having a perfect season until they lost their state bid during sectionals. Weeks of dedicated and loud student sections, hours of chants from cheerleaders, and moments of anxiety as the final seconds ticked past at the end of the fourth quarter. Stories emerged like #DoItForVic, La Porte keeping Jake’s memory alive, Highland being a strong force behind a sick teammate, and the incredible increase of females on the field. I was a constant witness to moments that ranged from respect and sportsmanship, to tense moments and outrage. This year Northwest Indiana cheered for Whiting as they made their way to state, and held them up high even as they lost. Comments poured in from rival schools like Andrean and Lake Station, congratulating them on making history. That, to me, is football. That’s what football means in the region.
As a girl I am going to continue to be a part of this world. I am going to tell the stories of prep football - as much as others want to belittle high school athletics. I want to be there when girls like Radiant Sykes and Sammie Campaniello take their school’s team by storm and continue to be a groundbreaking presence on their roster. I am going to be there when more and more female photographers join me on the field - if I have anything to do with it. Girls can break into whatever they want to, girls can do anything, and this girl is going to continue to document the great kids who are a part of football in Northwest Indiana.
Like the ever wise Coach Taylor put it - “Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose.” Or something like that.