Lydia Houle knew she had an opportunity to make history when she stepped on the football field Friday night at Manchester Valley High School.
Houle, a Westminster High School senior, kicked an extra point for the Owls with 6:44 left against the Mavericks for her team’s final points in an eventual 33-9 win as they improved to 3-0. Houle is believed to be the first girl to ever score a point in a Carroll County varsity football game.
“When I scored, I felt like all of the work I had put into the season actually mattered because I had been able to contribute to the team in a meaningful way,” Houle said. “There was an overwhelming amount of support from the coaches. They were the first ones on the sidelines to congratulate me and were proud of the work I had put in to deserve that opportunity.”
Houle made her kicking debut March 12 against South Carroll at Ruby Field midway through the third quarter after the Owls built their lead to 35-0 and beat the Cavaliers.
She doesn’t want to be classified as a girl playing a male-dominated sport, however, she just wants to do whatever she can to benefit her team.
“Football has always been a sport that brings a lot of school spirit and everybody kind of comes together,” Houle said. “I just wanted to be a part of the team and I thought it seemed like so much fun. It seemed like a great way to get to know some more people and I’m also very competitive, so it seemed like a good fit.”
Owls coach Chris Bassler said Houle just “belongs” and it’s a testament to her character and talent as a kicker.
Houle, who turned 18 on March 18, played at forward and midfield for the Owls’ girls soccer team for two years and said she was often complimented on how strong her shots were. She received plenty of encouragement to try out for the football team when the opportunity to be a kicker became a possibility.
“I could nail the [soccer] ball pretty far down the field,” Houle said. “People were always pretty impressed by that.”
The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out sports in Carroll from last March through the remainder of 2020 and the Carroll County Board of Education ultimately chose to have shortened versions of all three sports seasons in 2020-21, starting with winter sports. The shift pushed fall games to start in March and end in mid-April.
Houle expressed an interest in trying out for the team to Bassler before the altered season started, and sent him a video of her kicking to prove herself. Houle said Bassler was very encouraging of her decision from the get-go.
“He wanted me to make sure that I was welcome and that I had a place, should I have chosen to accept it,” Houle said. “He didn’t want it to be a big deal that there’s a girl and she’s held to different standards. He made it clear that I was going to be a part of the team and I would be treated as such.”
The Owls played their first game in 15 months on March 5 in a county clash against Liberty at Western Regional Park in Howard County. They defeated the Lions 21-6.
“She’s a good football player and a legitimate kicker,” Bassler said. “She is not on our team for any agenda or anything, she is a very talented young lady and she belongs on our team in every sense of the word.
“She fits in and the guys really enjoy having her around and really respect her as a football player because of the work ethic and the ability she has.”
Houle and fellow seniors Chance Barnhart and Cam Doolan round out the team’s kicking unit and she said Barnhart helps her and Doolan develop their form, among other adjustments, since the two never kicked prior to this season.
“It’s not a hostile environment or anything,” Houle said. “We all just want each other to get better.”
Houle made a statement on the Owls’ indoor track front this winter as well when she won the 500-meter dash at the county meet in 1:24.62. She also ran a leg on the Owls’ 4x200 and 4x400 relay teams that both finished third at that meet.
Houle finished sixth in the cross country county meet as a junior in 2019 and helped the Owls’ 4x200 relay team finish third at the indoor county meet and second at the Class 3A West meet that winter. She anchored the 4x400 relay that finished fourth at the county and regional meets and eighth at the 3A state meet.
“I think the greatest compliment our players have given her is to treat her like a football player,” Bassler said. “She hasn’t asked for any special treatment and just to see how well they’re all interacting and pushing each other, it’s awesome that we’ve reached a point where that can happen.