By Molly Hayden, USAG Grafenwoehr Public AffairsDecember 21, 2010
VILSECK, Germany - Although football is considered a male-dominated sport, two Vilseck High School students are defying stereotypes and proving they have what it takes to be "one of the guys" on the field.
As other girls might consider cheerleading or volleyball as a viable extracurricular activity, it's the pigskin that makes junior Charrica Arnaiz and sophomore Stephanie Leitold shine.
Baggy jerseys, protective padding and football helmets hide the fact that Arnaiz and Leitold are female. In uniform, they are unassuming as they move across the field, tackling and blocking as well as their male teammates.
But when their helmets come off, revealing long hair and girlish charm, the reactions are often priceless.
"It's always a surprise for the other team," said Leitold. "We get a lot of looks."
"I don't think they like getting beat by girls," added Arnaiz, a defensive tackle and offensive guard for the varsity team.
Although, neither of the 16-year-old players feels football is a "male sport."
"They may be stronger than us and taller than us, but we have our own strengths," said Arnaiz. "And we play on their level."
"We can keep up," said Leitold, whose tackle tactics prove genderless.
This combination of strengths is paramount in the success of the Falcon football teams. Leitold helped her junior varsity team "out man" the competition with a 7-0 winning streak to close out the season, while Arnaiz and her varsity teammates practiced hard and played hard, squeezing in one win and a few close losses.
"The girls work hard. They are not treated any different than the guys," said Jim Hall, Vilseck High School football coach.
Hall explained that Arnaiz and Leitold are not the first girls he had coached on a male dominated team, but they were the first two girls to start, stay and finish the year through the program, an act that impressed the veteran coach.
"They really fit into our program," said Hall.
Arnaiz first chose basketball as her sport of play, but found she was too aggressive.
"My coach kept saying 'this isn't football' so I thought I'd go out for that," she said. "It helps me blow off steam and I'm good at it."
Arnaiz believes being the only girl on her team has its advantages.
"My teammates are really protective of me," she said. "I'm one of the guys, but they still recognize that I'm a girl."
"Our team is a big family," said Leitold. "I'm everyone's little sister."
Leitold started her football career a few years ago, much to the chagrin of her mother.
"She was concerned at first because it's such a rough sport," she said. "But it's really helped me and taught me a lot about teamwork and sportsmanship."
Football has also brought her closer to her father.
"We have more in common now," said Leitold. "We continue to bond over the sport."
Although the football season ended weeks ago, the two stalwart students are already preparing for next season.
"I'll play football as long as they let me," said Arnaiz. "It's not about the boys, it's not about the attention, it's about the game. I love playing football."
"We're a part of something unique," said Leitold. "Football isn't just for guys anymore."