Girls forge own paths in city league

by Eric Norwood Jr.

PNT staff writer

enorwood@pntonline.com

These girls got game.

The 2013 season for Portales City League youth football is upon us, and this season there are three young ladies suiting up and making an impact for their respective teams.

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Eric Norwood Jr.: Portales News Tribune
Rheagan Purcell, left, and Randi Jo Crandall watch from the sideline Saturday during the first quarter of their 24-6 win over the 49ers in a Portales City League tackle football game. Purcell and Crandall, both 11 years old, are teammates on the Falcons, and also two of the three girls playing tackle football this season.

“RJ made a touchdown saving tackle for us last week,” said Falcons coach Cade Standifer.

Rheagan Purcell and Randi Jo (RJ) Crandall, both 11, play for the Falcons of the senior division, while Kenzee Rowland, 8, plays for the Panthers of the junior division.

“Kenzee starts at defensive tackle for us,” Panthers coach Jereme Woodruff said. “With her and our other tackle, it’s been pretty tough for teams to run up the middle on us.”

These young ladies are encouraging their teammates with their play, and defeating the assumption that only boys can play football.

“Some coaches may be a little worried having a girl on the team, but Kenzee is one of the biggest hustlers on our team,” Woodruff said. “She pushes the boys. They see a girl out there pushing herself, shaking off hits when she gets hit hard. She motivates us.”

Crandall has established herself as a starter as well at free safety for the Falcons. She and Purcell substitute for each other. Standifer has no issues with his two girls; in fact he wanted it that way.

“Last year we had RJ,” Standifer said. “She was a shock, she’s real aggressive. She learned a lot and she went from not playing as much to a starter on defense this year. At tryouts, we saw Rheagan, and she was faster than most of the boys. We already had RJ so we thought, why not?”

The girls have adjusted to the game and now that it’s midseason, they are in full play mode.

“I like to play safety because I like to make tackles,” said Crandall.

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Eric Norwood Jr.: Portales News Tribune
ERIC NORWOOD JR.: Portales News-Tribune
Kenzee Rowland, right, and her older brother Cole Rowland practice their stances before their Portales City League tackle football game on Saturday. Kenzee is a starting defensive tackle on the Panthers, while Cole starts at offensive tackle.

“The boys go hard, but I like to play because it’s fun,” said Purcell.

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Eric Norwood Jr.: Portales News-Tribune
Randi Jo Crandall, affectionately known as RJ, sprints down the field while covering a kickoff on Saturday.

“I don’t know how many tackles I’ve had but it is quite a few,” said Rowland.

The girls’ families had different opinions on letting them play, but most of the worries have gone to the wayside.

“I was OK with her playing,” said Jo Crandall, RJ’s mother. “There were some worries but she is a tough little girl. Last year she was timid, but this year she has shocked everyone.”

Jo Crandall said she wanted to play when she was RJ’s age, but it wasn’t allowed.

“I kind of laughed when she told me. I thought no way. But she played flag football, and loved it. When it was time for her to play volleyball this year, she said no, I want to play football, so football it was,” said Stacy Rowland, Kenzee’s mother.

“I was excited,” said Lauren Purcell, Rheagan’s mother. “I told her, ‘You’ve just got to be quicker than the boys.’”

Rowland’s older brother Cole starts on the offensive line for the Panthers. Cole, 9, said he was a little skeptical about his little sister playing football, but he is just fine now.

“At first I thought she wasn’t gonna go through with it,” Cole said. “But I think it’s good, she really helps our defense.”

The girls have helped lead their respective teams to success so far. The Falcons are 2-1-1 after a 24-6 win on Saturday, while the Panthers are 3-1 with their lone defeat 6-0 to the undefeated Chiefs.

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