PALMETTO, Fla. – Sha-La McMillan has always wanted to play football, but mom always said "no", or "not yet". But this season, Sha-La got her chance.
Football was all she ever wanted. “I used to play football in the backyard with my brother James, and we would just go and play tackle football in the yard. It was fun."
She did not fall into a specific stereotype. "I wasn't really girly. I wasn't always in the house. I like being outside getting dirty, hitting, catching the ball, running."
Mom, though, had other ideas. "I wanted to play since I was four. Mom, though, thought I would get hurt, so she asked that I wait ‘til I get to high school," says Sha-La.
She was undeterred, and wore her mother down.....sort of. "When I got to high school, she said ‘no’. I kept begging her and she said ‘okay’. Then she said this will be my final year playing football."
This season, Sha-La is playing defensive line and offensive tackle on the Palmetto High School freshman team.
“First day of practice, an assistant coach came up to me and said, ‘we got a girl on the team!’. I said, 'oh'. After 30 minutes of practice, I was like, 'okay.'" Says freshman coach Bryan Wilkes.
Acceptance, like Coach Wilkes, came from her own teammates, and grudgingly from opponents. "There was like four players guarding me, and the coaches were yelling 'do you need four people to guard a girl?' I was like cracking up," says Sha-La.
"She is tough, so she will go at you as hard as she can no matter who she is up against," says teammate Justin Elwell.
The freshman season is over now; the season her mom hopes was her last. Even if it is, anyone who comes in contact with her believes that big things are in her future.
"We already had her planned on doing girls weightlifting at Palmetto High School. Track, shotput, and, you know, discus for Palmetto High School," says Coach Wilkes.
"You have friends there that support you. You have the coaches who are good and have supported me a lot," says Sha-La.
"I think she will be famous someday, and they will all be saying, 'I knew her when she played freshman football at Palmetto High School'," says Wilkes.