High school girl kicks into record books
The coach and the kicker insist not much has changed since the tryout three years ago.
The coach yells for the field goal team at the start of practice and, by necessity, yells a little louder for the kicker, who comes jogging over from soccer practice on an adjacent field. She measures her steps, splits the uprights with her eyes and generally does the same with the ensuing kick.
Yep, she. And though Alana Gaither certainly isn’t the first girl to kick for her high school football team, 11 days ago she became the first — anywhere — to make a 43-yard field goal in a game.
The senior at Akron Firestone High School beat the halftime buzzer with the kick at Ellet on Oct. 8. That made her a perfect 4-of-4 on field goals for the season and got her coach, Tim Flossie, wondering if the kick was some sort of Akron City Series record. He wasn’t initially thinking any bigger.
Michael Beaven of the Akron Beacon Journal, a Firestone alum, worked high school football historians and national sources last week, including the National Federation of State High School Associations, in an attempt to verify that Gaither’s kick was the national record for a female kicker. He didn’t get concrete verification, but there was nothing to prove otherwise, either.
A pretty nice reward.
"It’s an honor, sure," Gaither said. "But even if we never knew, or even if we find out it’s not really the record, I’m proud because the last year or so I’ve been wanting to try to a 40-yarder in a game. One of my big goals for the season was to make one of those."
With his team’s kicking game struggling late in the 2007 season, Flossie held an open tryout for soccer players from both the boys and girls teams. Gaither said she thinks she caught the coach’s eye because she was just a freshman and the other contestants were upperclassmen, but Flossie said Gaither "was just good."
Flossie has been coaching high school football for nearly 40 years and said been a head coach "too long to remember." He won a pair of state titles in the late 1980’s at neighboring Buchtel. Firestone is his third stop since.
"There have been years I didn’t have a kicker, period," Flossie said. "She’s a good one, probably as good as I’ve had. I’ve really always trusted her from 40 yards or so. We work on them every day and she’s pretty consistent. A 43-yarder in a game is a big deal for any high school kicker."
Gaither is one of the Akron area’s leading scorers in girls soccer and also excels in track. She’s polished her kicking skills by attending camps the last three summers and studying via television on Sundays with her dad, like she’s always done.
"My dad is the reason I initially loved football, but my coaches and teammates are the reason I love it more now," Gaither said. "They treat me like one of the guys. They’re very supportive. They want me to succeed.
"I always watch the NFL kickers. I’m looking for tips. I look at their habits. Most people don’t watch that stuff, but I get excited."
Gaither said she’s considering trying to kick in college but is more likely to stick with soccer. With Firestone set to close its season the next two weeks with its two biggest games of the year, Flossie said he won’t hesitate to call on her for a game-winning field goal if the situation presents itself.
"She handles things pretty well," Flossie said. "She’s shy, and she might be nervous, but she’s all business on the sideline and when she trots out there. She’s a cool customer."
The only thing different about practice the last few days, Flossie said, has been the media attention to the record. She still jogs over, kicks until she has the head coach’s approval, then jogs back to soccer. On Tuesday afternoon the Firestone field goal team started with extra-point kicks and moved back, gradually, to 42 yards. After Gaither missed two from that distance while kicking off a spot of dirt in the middle of the field, she asked her coach for permission to move over and kick from the left hash.
There, she made her first 42-yarder with plenty to spare.
"If you stick around next year, I’ll plant some grass there for you," Flossie told her.
Gaither smiled and shrugged her shoulders. She can’t rewrite the rule book, but the record book will do.
Follow Zac Jackson on Twitter @FSOhioZJackson