Local girl tackles gender norms in football

Local girl tackles gender norms in football

Local girl tackles gender norms in football
February 10
00:30 2015

Tyler Cleveland / Contributing Writer

braid of hair sticks out of her helmet and flings back and forth. The only girl on the football field, she runs and fights to not let her teammates down. It’s the last game of the season, and the Calhoun Cougars have the odds stacked against them. The Denton Middle School’s B-team hasn’t won a game this season.

She dodges a defender, sidesteps another, and then, like wooden blocks striking together, a loud “clock!” pierces the crisp autumn air.

A hush falls upon the crowd. All eyes are on Maleyciah Tillman-David. Her teammates and coaches look out with hope to see if she would get up — to see if she would overcome again.

Minutes pass as concern fills the stadium, and parents question if a girl should be playing football. If Calhoun’s other players passed their classes and finished the season, she wouldn’t have to carry the team, and the  straight-A student embraced by Calhoun’s all-boys football team for the last two years wouldn’t have to take such a fall.

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It was Maleyciah’s first time playing in the first-string lineup. She usually cheered from the sidelines, in the second-string of orange and white jerseys. Her coaches saw how she motivated the boys during practice, telling them to “Keep hustling!” with a slap on the helmet, and how she simply didn’t give up, win or lose, day-in and day-out.

After the hard hit, she limped to the sidelines, helped by her coaches. She endured a mild concussion, she would later learn, from a collision with her own teammate.

“I was upset, not because of the pain, but because I wanted to help my team win,” she said.

The Cougars lost, again, but that didn’t matter as much the next day. Winning didn’t matter as much at Calhoun Middle School, where strength is found in the struggle, in getting up and not surrendering — even with the odds against you.

The bell rings over the intercom and eighth-graders shuffle toward their first-period classes. Maleyciah walks up the stairway and past a painted mural of a cougar standing powerfully on a mountain. She passes stenciled quotes, one anonymous: “People who say it cannot be done, should not interrupt those who are doing it.”

English teacher Christopher Lawn stands at the door and shakes the hand of each student, checking for I.D. badges. “Welcome back. Welcome back. Welcome back,”  he repeats.

They made it back. They came to school. They made it through yesterday, and through whatever obstacles they confronted at home, the forces beyond their control. They are here, and that’s what matters most.This is where they can take control of life, and come back tomorrow to make a difference for their future.

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Co-pastor Krista White, left, prays for Maleyciah Tillman-David after the church service at The Bridge on Nov. 9. Maleyciah endured a minor concussion and seizure during a football game on Nov. 4.

It’s only his 11th week on the job, but Principal Paul Martinez understands the world his students come from. He used to be one of these kids.

“I wasn’t worried about learning. I was worried about food,” Martinez told the students at a pep rally at the beginning of the year.

Seventy percent of Calhoun’s roughly 650 students are from families with low socioeconomic status, and many parents are unemployed or haven’t gone to college.

“They know he’s pulling for them,” said James Hall, who started teaching science at Calhoun 25 years ago. “He’ll tell them, ‘It doesn’t matter where you come from. It matters where you want to go.’”

With a minority-majority, half of the student population at Calhoun is Hispanic, and 35 percent is white.

Yet it’s that diversity and economic struggle, say some faculty, which creates a strong family bond and resolve at the school.

Martinez, a first-generation college student, credits his teachers as difference-makers.

“They become the consistency in the student’s life,” he said. “Hopefully they are the ones that get them to value education, and break a cycle of poverty, and push them through it.”

Darlene Petit teaches English, but she also teaches relationships – the key to resilience, she says.

“I just told Maleyciah, ‘Go for it,’ and she really did,” she said, adding that other students were inspired by her decision to try out for the football team. Her long-term goal is to play in a UNT uniform.

When times were rough for Maleyciah, Petit was there to help her believe.

“I got so angry at myself at being bad [at football], that I considered quitting,” Maleyciah said. “I realized I need to keep going, and I can’t give up on something that I love so much.”

“That encouragement from the teachers makes it a lot easier for me to do what I’ve been doing.”

Petit also recognized Maleyciah’s desire to become a minister.

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From left to right, eighth-graders Maleyciah Tillman-David, Alec Mullet, Lesly Morales and Amy Marquez play swords with a ruler, a yard stick and a pencil during their second period advisory class at Calhoun Middle School on Dec. 9.

“Maleyciah became [students’] surrogate bodyguard,” Petit recalls. “She was my little helper.”

Maleyciah, who turned 14 in November, said that while football revealed her strength, Calhoun helped reveal her ministry: identifying with the weak.

“I mainly focus on befriending outcasts, because they are the ones that need the extra friend, that shoulder to lean against,” she said. “I aim for becoming their best friends, because you can’t ever have too many best friends.”

Maleyciah’s dad, Freddie David, counts and folds underneath his large and wrinkled thumbs a wad of dollar bills that are no longer his.

He places the money in an envelope and licks it shut.

“This month’s tithe,” he said, staring out through the windows of the Gateway Center at UNT, where The Bridge Church meets every Sunday. “It’s hard sometimes,” he said.

Another month working at the car wash isn’t the easiest for a family of six, but he has his family, and that’s what matters most.

“I was addicted to crack cocaine for 21 years,” he said.  “I was delivered.”

Throughout the years, Maleyciah’s older brother, Zechariah, watched as his little sister battled the urge to give up.

“No matter how many odds are coming against her, she finds a way to push forward and exceeds all our expectations,” he said, streamers hanging in the TRiO office in Sage Hall at UNT, where he attends a work-study for the federal assistance program. “She used to feel like she couldn’t speak up,” he says. “Now she’s helping others come out of their shell and believe in themselves.”

In their home in southeast Denton, Maleyciah helps her younger sister, Hadassa, finish homework for school with her mom on the couch, where she sleeps by a small heater. “We’re hoping for a mattress soon,” her mom said.

A portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. hangs on the wall beside a cross and rows of family pictures, one with Freddie at a portrait studio with family.

“I learned how strong I really was,” Maleyciah said of her time at Calhoun playing football.

Maleyciah was inspired to play football after watching her two older brothers compete at Ryan High School. The oldest, Jeremiah, plans to attend UNT next semester.

She’s followed in their footsteps since she could walk. Now, Zechariah says, it’s Maleyciah who is running ahead, and thanks to Calhoun, further than she’s ever gone.

“She thinks that she’s trying to keep up with us, but really, we’re all trying to keep up with her,” he said.

Featured Image: Maleyciah Tillman-David, left, holds hands with Sam Ferraoez during Calhoun Middle School’s football game Oct 7, at Bronco Stadium. Tillman-David says the team has become her family, and Sam is one of her many best friends. Photos by Tyler Cleveland

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