PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — When you go to Ida B. Wells football practice, you won’t notice anything different from afar.
However, if you look at the locks flowing out of the back of the helmets, you may put it together.
“I’ve never heard of another football program with eight girls,” said Zorina Markley-Johnson.
“I’ve never seen eight,” said Ida B. Wells co-head coach Robby Scharf.
“I haven’t heard of any football program with any girls in it until I came to Ida B. Wells,” added Elle Hohl.
This story begins two years ago when Markley-Johnson’s older brother, Gus, informed her that summer practices were starting for football.
All incoming eighth graders, regardless of gender, were allowed to join.
“I just thought, ‘When else in my life am I going to be able to play football?” said Markley-Johnson.
The now sophomore ended up sticking with the sport and playing her freshman year, but then over the summer, she had an idea.
“I was at a summer practice, and I was the only girl, and I was like, ‘It’d be so fun if we had a team full of girls,’” said Markley-Johnson, who plays nose tackle. “So, I made an Instagram with some of my friends from the school and we started summer practices.”
About 20 to 25 girls ended up participating.
“I thought that was a really, really cool opportunity for me to come out and play. I mean, it seemed like a challenge,” said Hohl.
That led to seven other girls, and of course, Markley-Johnson, deciding to play football this year.
“It’s definitely a compliment to the coaching staff that they feel comfortable enough,” said Scharf. “It’s not every staff in the state, not every program in the state, would open its arms to that. I’m really happy to be part of a staff would welcome that.”
That support from the top of the program is something that came up time and again with these girls.
“It just makes me want to try even harder every single day,” said Hohl, who’s a junior lineman on both sides of the ball. “They make sure to check on me and ask me about the sport, and if there’s anything they can do. That just really encourages me to go out and be like, ‘Hey, I need to make them proud.’”
It’s safe to say this group is making a lot more people than just their coaches proud.
“It feels really good, and it’s really important to me that we’re finally breaking those barriers,” said Markley-Johnson’s younger cousin, Genevie Mondero. “We’re showing them that we can do it.”
And that sentiment brings Markley-Johnson back to the first practice of the year, as eight girls ran around the field with a whole slew of boys.
“Empowering women has always been a huge part of my life. It was just so inspiring to see them all there,” said Markley-Johnson. “Genuinely, it gave me a lot of hope. It was like, these girls have this bravery, and I think that this sport could go a long way.”