When 15-year-old Ashley Bocek was a high school freshman, she earned herself a spot as a base on her school’s cheerleading team. But after spending a year learning routines and cheering on the boys on the football field, Bocek made a decision that surprised pretty much everyone: Instead of watching the game from the sidelines, Bocek decided to try out, so she could actually play.
Now, she’s become Harrison High School’s first ever female junior varsity football player, proving to everyone that a 5-foot-tall former cheerleader can totally hold her own against the guys. And while Bocek has admitted that it wasn’t exactly easy to become the first girl on the team, she says it was actually the naysayers and haters that inspired her to prove everybody wrong.
As Bocek told ABC 7 New York this week, her friends and family initially “thought she was crazy” for wanting to play football, but after training for — and then nailing — a physically-grueling tryout, she not only proved she was totally serious about her football dream, but also totally capable.
Still, making the team was half the battle — being accepted would take some time. Bocek told CBS News that neither the team nor her school was really particularly encouraging, but since, legally, they couldn’t keep her from trying out, she did exactly that. And, eventually, she said that the old mindset that football isn’t a sport for girls began to change.
“They didn’t want me on the team,” Bocek said, of her experience initially trying out. “They thought I was just kidding about the whole situation, but as the season went on I [gained] acceptance.”
It turns out though, that not only was the school hesitant about letting her play — Bocek’s own family was, as well.
As the only girl in a family with three brothers and a former football player dad, Bocek had to convince them that she was serious about her football plans. But after spending some time practicing with her father, John, Bocek’s dedication and strength won him over, too. Now, John’s only daughter also happens to be the only one of his four kids playing football, and both he and Bocek’s mom, Tonya, have admitted that they were completely wrong to underestimate her.
The initial lack of support didn’t faze Bocek though, which is quite possibly the most impressive part of her entire story. In fact, she told CBS News that it just pushed her even harder. “The fact that people told me I couldn’t do it made me want to do it even more,” she shared, adding that her athletic aspirations are just getting started. Next year, Bocek said she intends to try out for the varsity team, and in the off-season, she’s set her sights on wrestling. (No big deal, or anything.)
As for her advice for any other girls out there considering following in her trailblazing footsteps, Bocek’s message is pretty clear:
“You’re going to get a lot of hate, that’s definitely going to happen,” she admitted to ABC News. “But you have to take that hate and turn it into your motivation to prove everyone wrong.”
As disappointing as it is to think that a girl playing football is still such a huge rarity, Bocek’s example will no doubt serve as a clear message to other girls as well as boys, that not only can girls want to play traditionally male-dominated sports, but they can absolutely kick butt while doing it. And given Bocek’s totally fearless attitude towards breaking down those outdated barriers, something tells me that JV football is just the beginning of what could be a seriously impressive athletic career.