DOYLESTOWN, Ohio — At ten minutes ’til 3, the Chippewa High School football players roll into the dusty stadium parking lot and jockey for premium spots. In the minutes that follow they wrestle, and rap, and burp, generally acting like teenagers do in the time between a long school day and their final football practice of the week.
As they saunter towards the fieldhouse as a group, only one of them has to wait for an assistant coach to bring a key to the auxiliary locker room. She’s also the only one who makes sure to wear a practice jersey that’s actually clean.
“I’m a girl,” Jackie Kasburg says, casually yet matter-of-factly.
And local royalty. And a national novelty. Kasburg made a little history last Friday night when she made her varsity football debut, converting three point-after-touchdowns kicks in a 55-27 loss to backyard rival Rittman, and was named the school’s homecoming queen in a halftime ceremony.
One for the scrapbook.
“Honestly, getting out there and scoring in football meant more to me than being named queen,” Kasburg said this week. “Winning queen is definitely a dream come true, I won’t lie. But knowing I could make kicks in a real game, that was big.
“I just wanted to be on the team and help the team, and that meant I can officially be one of the guys.”
The girls soccer program at Chippewa is a state power, routinely winning more games in a season than the football team has in a decade. But when Kasburg decided to quit soccer earlier this season, her first conversation with football coach Kevin Wolf was one between student and guidance counselor.
“The last thing I told her was to make sure that giving up soccer was a decision she could live with,” Wolf said. “And she told me she’d see me at football practice. I thought she was joking, but I told her we started at 3:20.”
She was there at 3:05, and the next day she was actually kicking. She was held out of contact during the state-required acclimation period all football players go through, then spent some time practicing with the freshman team to get used to hitting and learn to defend herself if she’s asked to kick off later this season.
Kasburg has played soccer since she was five, but she said she also grew up playing football in the backyard with her brothers and thought she could kick a football successfully if given a chance. When she and her father went to the stadium to actually give it a shot four weeks ago, she missed her first kick badly and learned it wasn’t as easy as it looks.
“I tried to kick a soccer kick,” she said. “It was terrible. It was a mile left. My dad was holding for me and he got up and gave me some pointers on how to approach it. Two kicks later, it was right down the middle.”
She started making them in practice, too, and Wolf soon decided she was the best woman for the job. Fellow senior Mark Bramley, the incumbent kicker, was already busy playing both ways, and Wolf trusted that Kasburg was accurate enough to “consistently” make kicks from the PAT distance of 20 yards.
Her game-night debut was delayed by the team’s struggles. Chippewa was defeated by a total of 109-0 in Kasburg’s first two weeks on the team, 54-0 by Northwestern and 55-0 by Hillsdale. That meant no PAT tries — the Chipps didn’t get close enough to try a field goal, either — and a long night on the sideline for the new kicker.
“It was kind of lonely,” she said.
“We’ve had some rough ones against some programs that are just better than us right now,” Wolf said. “But if we’re going to win one, we have to be able to kick PATs and not have to count on going for two. At a small school you can’t always find someone to do that, but I have the utmost confidence she can knock those kicks right down the pipe.”
It’s Wolf’s first year at Chippewa, a school of about 550 students in eastern Wayne County, about 15 minutes southwest of Akron. He came from North Central High in Indianapolis, a tradition-rich football power of almost 4,000 students that routinely used a soccer player to kick field goals and PATs. Just not a soccer player like Jackie Kasburg.
“We’re trying to build something here the right way, and she’s no gimmick,” Wolf said. “She’s an accurate kicker who makes our team better. She knows how to kick. She’s as competitive as anybody on the team.”
IN JACKIE THEY TRUST
Her pink cleats might strike you as strange, but really they’re just another sign that she’s one of the guys. Team tradition dictates that the seniors paint their cleats different colors for game nights; last week they chose pink to honor Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“She’s the homecoming queen, but we treat her like a football player,” Wolf said. “In return, she gives us her best effort, great work ethic and leadership.”
She gives the Chippewa program a little notoriety, too. Wolf joked that he’s the only 0-6 high school football coach in the country whose school day includes fielding calls from Fox Sports and ESPN. But Kasburg’s first successful PAT brought the kind of cheer that hasn’t been heard in the Chippewa football stands in recent years, and that counts for something.
“These moments are fleeting,” Wolf said. “I tell all the kids, not just Jackie, to take advantage of the good things that happen. It’s supposed to be fun.”
A win would make it more fun. The Chipps haven’t been close since a 33-22 loss in the season opener, but games with Waynedale Oct.15 and Smithville Oct. 29 bring at least a chance. Wouldn’t this Hollywood-meets-Nowheresville story be even better if she capped her short-but-sweet high school football career on a game-winning field goal?
“I’m ready for that pressure,” Kasburg said. “I think I can make any kick they ask me to.”
“I wouldn’t hesitate,” Wolf said. “She’s about as accurate as I’ve seen from about 35 yards and in. She spends a lot of time working at it. She’s a winner.
“That she’s a girl, I guess I’ve put that aside and I think her teammates have, too. On Friday nights when we send the PAT team in, she’s a football player.”