Campos tackles gender norms


Jake McKeon

Campos practices catching passes at JV practice.

Davi Jacobs, Ifrah Reyal, and Jake McKeon

#0 on the Junior Varsity (JV) Football team belongs to sophomore Natasha Hernandez Campos, the only girl to play on RM’s football teams after almost two decades.

While Campos was training for the track team in the weight room during her freshman year, she became close with the varsity football players who were working out beside her. Her consistent participation in the team’s training caught the attention of the JV football coach, Samuel Heckman, who suggested that she try out for the JV football team. Although she was hesitant at first, she decided to go for it.

During the summer, Campos continued to train in the Mini Camp to stay in shape. When the fall season began, the focus turned to developing the skills needed for the playing field, like working on defensive and offensive formations, every day of the week. From the warmup drills starting at 3:45 pm to the end of the day at around 7 pm, the team puts in the work. 

“Those practices are really intense on your body,” Campos said. “You have to push through it mentally and tell yourself you can make it through.” 

In addition to self-motivation, she also finds strength to move on from her teammates. 

“They always lift me up and the coaches are always looking out for us,” Campos said. “We’ve gone through a lot and being around each other for such a long time makes me consider everyone to be like family.”

Campos feels lucky to have a team that includes her the way they do. 

Coach Heckman did whatever he could to make her feel comfortable while adjusting to the football program. “She was a little hesitant, but now she’s a regular member of the team,” he said. “She’s just another teammate in the most positive and inclusive way I can mean.”

Back in 2012, Coach Heckman coached a professional female football team.  That position made a lasting impact on him.

“Those women were an inspiration in a lot of ways because they came to practice and they busted their butt while having careers and families,” he said. “The women actually intensified my desire to coach and that experience showed me that football is football because gender is not important to the game when you’re out there playing and hoping to win.”

Although girls are allowed to try out for the football team, there has not been a female player before now at RM since 2005, when Mina Ebrahimi played on the varsity team. 

Coach Heckman believes that it is purely a social norm that stops girls who are interested from pursuing football and encourages them to absolutely try it out. “I have noticed zero gender issues with Natasha being on the team,” he said. “So long as whoever joins the team upholds the team standards, they’ll be welcomed.” 

Campos noticed that the spectators at games, for the most part, are also very accepting. “The support I’ve come across is amazing. I’ve had parents and other coaches come up and wish me a good season,” she said.

Since Campos plays safety and receiver, she tackles a lot of players, some of whom are much bigger than her.

“I think the best thing I do is hitting people,” she said. “I’m always a little nervous because I’m hitting into a bunch of guys who are naturally supposed to be stronger than me.”

Although every day is a challenge for Campos and her team, they overcome it with hard work, dedication and perseverance. 

While Campos’ gender may have set her apart from her teammates at the start, football is like any other sport and a player should not be defined by who they are but rather by what they bring to the community that is bonded by a love for the game. 

“Sports in general can always be a great equalizer for just bringing people together no matter what, no matter what they got going on,” Coach Heckman said. “If you’re a member of the team, and you’re doing what you’re supposed to do, we love you.”

To any girls, and guys, who are considering trying out for either the JV or Varsity football team, Campos encourages them to not shy away and show up next season. “It’s a new experience and like nothing you’ve ever done before,” she said.