Denair High football receivers coach Tim Fanning had mixed feelings on Sept. 29 when he watched his daughter and the program’s first female player Emilee Fanning run onto the field for a point after touchdown attempt. He had been coaching and assisting her since March, but wanted no part in watching, as he sat just looking at the ground and praying silently for her daughter to stay safe and to be successful, he said.
Each point after attempt, Tim held his breath, waiting to hear the sounds of cheers from the crowd or boos, only the boos never came.
“It’s a double-edged sword for me because she is playing a big boy sport and she is only 5-foot tall,” said Tim. “When she was up there I sat on the bench, I couldn't watch, I just waited for the cheer or the sigh and every time it was a cheer.”
Emilee is the first female varsity football player to join the squad.
“I really enjoy soccer and I know it’s two totally different sports, but last year we went for two all the time since we didn't have a kicker and so I thought I might as well take the chance,” said Emilee. “It’s my senior year and I did it. I already made a bigger bond with my teammates, not like any other sport I have played.”
The squad has also been nothing but supportive of their new teammate.
“I think in Denair we just want what is best for the community and we like to come together and it is a big step having a girl kicker,” said teammate and fellow kicker Elvis Silva. “It's the same respect, since we are all family. So, she is one of the guys, she is a big part of the team and it would be different without her.”
After spending six months learning previously unknown skills and techniques, with the help of her coach and football knowledgeable father, it became more important to be a part of the team and not just the kicker.
“For other people to hear there is a girl kicker might be different, but for us it's the normal, I go out for practice on the days I don't have volleyball,” said Emilee, who is also on the varsity volleyball squad.
Humble, yet fierce and hungry, she wants to be a role model for girls in the area, girls who would perhaps choose to compete with the guys in a sport like football.
“Hopefully they get motivated. If they want to do it, do it because I had my doubts and wasn't sure if I wanted to do it and if I would be accepted. But you just have to go out and do what you want,” said Emilee. “Follow your dreams and hopes and it will all work out, because I also wanted to play volleyball, but I was able to play both.”
Playing in the homecoming game and making four kicks has been the highlight of her season so far.
“I just hope if I get another chance to play I will stay focused and make my kicks, I don't want to miss any of the kicks although the best of the best miss at times,” she said.
“She is all about the team and I am excited for her as her dad, but it is all about the team,” Tim added. “We just wanted her to come out and do the best she could do. She has settled down now and I think the confidence boost she got was when her number was called and she put everything out of her mind and did all we talked about and did it.”