Cheerleader Angela Wise wanted to trade her pom-poms for a helmet and pads this year to play football with the boys.
But the Howard High School junior's hopes were cut short when the school's football coach, fearing for her safety, didn't allow her to try out for the team this summer.
She had been to two days of a two-week tryout when the coach told her she was "not big enough and too slow," she said. "I came home crying because I felt so bad."
Coach John Quinn said his decision was based on concern for Angela's safety and on her inability to keep up during a practice.
Angela, 16, described herself as a tomboy who takes auto shop classes and hopes to open her own garage after college. She also takes weightlifting classes.
She said she bench presses 120 pounds, which is her weight, and does 60-pound curls, often in her bedroom, where she keeps a weight bench and dumbbells her brothers and father have used.
"I know I may not have made it," said Angela, who is 5 feet 4 inches tall. "But [the coach] should have given me the benefit of trying out."
Angela had one other hurdle to clear before she could play -- her grades. School officials said this week that she would have been academically ineligible to play, based on her grades last year.
But Angela, though she did not have the required 2.0 grade-point average last quarter, would have been able to play on a "contract" that, if she made the team, would have required her to maintain a "C" average at midsemester this year or be declared )) ineligible. Several members of the school's sports
teams are on such contracts this semester, Principal Eugene Streagle said.
Angela has been in contact with the American Civil Liberties Union concerning a possible sex discrimination lawsuit. She said the coach told her, "We need a pretty girl like you to be a manager."
Mr. Quinn denied saying that and said her safety was the reason he did not allow her to try out.
"I didn't think it was a good situation for her to be in," he said. "I really felt if the girl had played, she would have been hurt."
Under the federal Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination, female students must have the opportunity to try out for male teams, and vice versa.
Donald Disney, the county supervisor of health and physical education, said there is no county guideline for coaches in determining who will be on their teams.
Mr. Quinn said he cut Angela because she lacked the necessary physical makeup and because she had no junior varsity football experience. He also said she failed to participate in some drills and that she couldn't keep up during others.
"She looked like a fish out of the water," Mr. Quinn said. "I told her I admired her courage and I don't
think this would be a good sport for her."
Mr. Quinn said he had never prevented a male player from trying out solely because of size but that he had cut players for other reasons, such as lack of skill or speed.
The coach said he also was mindful of a 1989 incident in Carroll County in which a female football player injured her pancreas and spleen after falling on another player's knee during a scrimmage. The student, 5-foot-7-inch, 130-pound Tawana Hammond, sued the school system, claiming that it failed to warn her about the dangers of football.
A Circuit Court judge threw out the $1.5 million lawsuit, saying the player and her family "knew about the risks of serious, disabling and catastrophic injury assumed" by varsity football players.
Mr. Quinn said he would allow Angela to try out next year if she "shows me that she can lift weights like any of the guys are doing and if she shows me a reasonable 40-yard speed."
Mr. Streagle backed the coach's decision.
"I think there were some real concerns," he said. "There are some huge kids out there. It was an accident waiting to happen."
Angela, a champion swimmer in the county, said she missed some of the drills because she wanted to watch instead to see how the practices were run and that she kept up in other drills that she did attend.
She said she played football with her brothers as she grew up and is aware of the dangers.
"She likes the physical contact," said her father, Charlie Wise. "There's no physical contact in soccer or basketball."
But Angela isn't going to wait until next year to try a contact sport. She wants to try out for the wrestling team this winter. "I want everyone to know that girls can play as well as guys," she said.