Female football player takes on the boys at R.K. Smith
Coach Melissa Gore, Diandra Baham and Head Coah Kevin Carrigee.
The players are split into two groups at opposite ends of the field. The skill players are running routes and catching passes while on the other end the linemen are coming out of their stances and hitting players standing above them holding pads.
It’s a hot afternoon and sweat glistens as the linemen push each other back and forth.
Coach Melissa Gore calls out instructions to the players.
No. 74 comes up, hits the pad hard and pushes, cleats dig into the turf as legs churn.
The whistle blows and the players break for water. When No. 74’s helmet comes off a puff of hair held together by a headband emerges.
This is Diandra Baham, the only female football player in the parish. Gore is her position coach and the only female coach in the parish.
Gore said it was inevitable that a girl would make the team given that there was a female coach.
"I told them you can’t have a female football coach and not expect a couple of girls to show interest in coming out," she said.
Gore has been a coach for R.K. Smith for the past six years and said Diandra is the second girl to tryout for the team and first to stick around.
"It is good. I like to see it. I like to see people challenge the status quo and grow," she said.
Being a child of a different era, Gore said she wanted to play when she was growing up, but it was not as acceptable at that time.
"When I was a kid I grew up wanting to play, but I grew up in the early 70s so those opportunities came later," she said.
Gore said she is excited to see Diandra play and encouraged because she has been picking up the game quickly.
"She’s adapting, she’s learning. It’s all new to her. I haven’t seen her in a hitting drill yet, we’ll see that in a little bit," she said. "But she’s learning. She’s picking it up."
Diandra’s father, Barry Baham, 45, a former Hahnville Tiger, said Diandra told him she was interested in playing last year.
"I didn’t really take her serious about it. And then she told me she had to stay after school for football practice and I said, ‘are you serious?’ And she said, ‘yeah I’m serious,’" he said.
Diandra was already involved in softball and track as well as band and choir, but Barry told her to go for it.
"I’m very proud of her. Whatever she wants to get into in school and everything I am 100 percent behind her," he said.
Similarly her mother, Anjanette Baham, said she was completely behind the decision.
"Whatever she wants to do, as long as it is constructive I will get behind it," she said.
Anjanette said Diandra should be an inspiration to others.
"I’m glad she decided to do it. She is definitely a trend setter and I think that is what she is trying to prove to some people as well as some of her friends. It doesn’t matter, you can do whatever you want to do. Your options are unlimited," she said.
She said her daughter has the perfect personality for a football player.
"She’s a go-getter. She is not afraid of anything. She is very aggressive and she does not scare easily," Anjanette said.
Diandra’s decision to join the team was not as easy as just saying she wanted to be part of club. She had to try out and was one of 45 players who beat out 25 others to make the cut.
R.K. Smith’s head coach Kevin Carrigee said she earned her spot.
"So far she is holding her own. She’s good enough hopefully to play. She wasn’t somebody that you didn’t need to keep around. So we just gave her a chance to see what she could do," he said.
Barry said the other players on the team have welcomed his daughter.
"I talked to a few of the players and they were glad she went out," Barry said.
Gore agrees with Barry.
"I give her tons of props just for having the courage to come no matter what they are going to say or whatever. She didn’t know how they were going to react when she came out here, but she fits right in. It’s great," she said.
In fact, other players have been helping her learn the game and get better.
"You can tell these guys like her and they want her to succeed," Gore said.
Although Diandra is currently on the "B team", Carrigee said once the season starts on Sept. 19 they will be evaluating her.
Anjanette said R.K. Smith’s first game will be a family affair.
"I definitely am looking forward to it," she said. "Her dad, her grandfather, her grandmother, her aunt and her uncles - we are all looking forward to it."
Carrigee said the fact that Diandra went out for the team to begin with was indicative of her character and a positive step for the program.
"Hopefully she’ll inspire the guys to be a little tougher. She’s got a little toughness to her. Just the fact that she came out here shows she had a little toughness to her. Hopefully it’s a positive thing not just for the team, but for the school," Carrigee said.
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