Boys at Tehachapi High School aren’t the only players on the football field nowadays. Fans may have to look twice on game days — this year two girls are on the Warriors varsity team.
Football players Molly Miller Rijfkogel, standing 5 foot 4 inches tall, and Rikki Josephine Pitts, at 5 foot 9 inches tall, are playing the game and bringing along a feminine touch, be it wearing lipstick or braiding their hair, still visible under their white helmets.
“My dad thought I was talking about soccer, and I said I’m playing football ... and then he said I needed to be tough," Pitts said.
The girls have non-kicking positions. Rijfkogel plays wide receiver and Pitts has the position of lineman for the defense.
It doesn’t seem to matter that girls are playing football.
Doug DeGeer, the Warriors head coach, said the girls aren't treated differently from any other players. They are given "the same opportunities based on their skillset and what position they want to try out for within the team," he said.
Out on the field during practice, teamwork and sportsmanship are clearly seen as positive. Teammates cheer, clap and smile to encourage one another.
“Instead of dwelling on differences, we value all the teammates and their productivity and (they are) to be respected and valued in the same manner,” DeGeer said.
Rijfkogel and Pitts said they're experiencing a sport very few girls play, and that's a nice challenge.
Rijfkogel said their example may motivate other girls to try different things. She has a male relative who was a kicker in football, and this made her start thinking about participating.
“I didn’t understand football. I thought it would be funny if a short girl would be out there (on the field) and wanted to prove them wrong,” Rijfkogel said.
They have also received quite a bit of support from fellow players, coaches and their parents.
Teammates are concerned about their welfare and defend them. The first time Rijfkogel played in the game, many from her team were angry with the opponent.
"The first time I got to go in against the other team, a guy was kind of mad I was out there, so like my fourth or fifth play he just picked me up by the pads and threw me down, in an illegal tackle and I held onto him and I thought that was supposed to happen, so I got up laughing and a few of the other seniors were yelling (to the other team) ... What was that?" Rijfkogel said.
She added,“ You have to expect some, if not more of the weight. It’s a different kind of pressure when you’re out there."
Pitts' father was also supportive, and she commented that her role model is her father, as he played football too.
It turns out it's not rare for girls to play football.
According to the CIF Central Division, which is a board for public and private high school athletics in the San Joaquin Valley, girls may participate as long as they meet standards.
CIF Commissioner Jim Crichlow said, "Girls may play football. In fact we usually have eight to 10 per year throughout the Valley playing at some level. There are no special rules for girls. If they are good enough to make the team, they make it. They receive no special treatment."