LEAD — Lead-Deadwood sophomore Winter McMahon added her name to the short list of girls suiting up for South Dakota high school football teams and there is one reason above all else.
“Most of it was meeting a challenge from other sports in general,” McMahon said of her decision to join the Golddiggers this fall. “I feel like I’ve conquered all the other sports I’ve tried.”
taekwondo and snocross racing. She said she wanted to do something a bit different.
McMahon wears jersey number 86 and is listed as a wide receiver-defensive back. She was not able to play in Lead-Deadwood’s 52-0 win over Bennett County in last week’s season opener.
The known list of girls playing on South Dakota High School football teams is rather short.
Terre Vocu played for Little Wound in 2015. Bailee Schultz did so from 2013-15 as flanker/tight end/defensive back and was crowned 2015 homecoming queen at Bridgewater/Emery-Ethan. Jenna Van Holland is a placekicker for Garretson this season.
McMahon added some questioned her playing football. A lot of people told her she was going to get badly hurt, and her size, 5 feet 6 inches, would also hold her back.
“Other than that, I was like, ‘let’s go for it.’ I think this is going to be fun, and a great challenge,” McMahon said.
She faced skepticism at early meetings because having a girl on a boys’ team was unexpected. McMahon said they now accept her as a team member, on and off the field.
This is the first chance McMahon has had to play on a football team. She said she gets knocked down in practices but gets back up again, with teammates helping her.
“They treat her like any other teammate,” Lead-Deadwood head coach Kyle Kooima said. “She’s a part of this team, so we’ll treat her as part of the family.”
Football is a new sport to McMahon. Her biggest appeal comes from the game’s nuances: linemen hitting hard while their teammates block, a well-thrown ball, and a receiver running for a touchdown.
Early-season preparation includes morning practices, followed by weightlifting session. She makes sure to eat the proper foods and stay healthy.
What has McMahon enjoyed the most during her time on the team?
“The leadership that is shown at practice and on the field,” McMahon said. She added everyone has a fresh start because of the coaching change for this year.
Her biggest challenge centers on trying to keep up with the different ways of practice. She said she has had to get her body used to doing things that she is not used to doing.
Kooima was happy to learn of McMahon’s interest in joining the team and did not give her any special treatment.
“I didn’t offer her too much more than I would any other student new to the game,” Kooima said. “I just encourage her to ask questions and make sure she’s getting repetitions in.”
McMahon said she has received a lot of support after people found out she would try football.
McMahon was nervous in the days before official practice sessions began. She experienced the emotional range all new athletes do.
Part of her did not know what to do and was worried she would make mistakes. “Another part of me was like, “OK, I can do this. I just have to keep my chin up, smile, and get through practice,’” she said.
Kooima said McMahon has put forth a lot of effort to learn the game and how to play it. He added McMahon is still learning but rapidly improving.
“Her strength is that she’s not afraid,” Kooima said. “She’s not afraid to ask and not afraid to step out of her comfort zone.”
Playing in a game is McMahon’s biggest goal for this season. Lead-Deadwood has a varsity team along with sub-varsity squads, which will give her plenty of chances to play.
McMahon also wants to support and cheer for her teammates.
Kooima said McMahon is very willing to ask about the game. He has not had to make too many adjustments, and he leans on past experience.
“I’ve coached girls in other sports over the years,” Kooima said. “The biggest thing is being a listener, and making sure to stay calm and have a conversation first.”
Changing of clothes for games naturally requires some adjustments.
Home games provided no issues, as team members changed at the school that has separate locker rooms for boys and girls.
Kooima said he needs to stay aware McMahon doesn’t get placed into uncomfortable situations where locker rooms and restrooms are concerned. He added he reaches out to opposing athletic directors to make sure there is a place for McMahon.
She has made it clear she is in this for the long run.
“If I’m going to do it now, I have to do it next year,” she said. “I don’t really like quitting on things; I like to see it all the way through.”
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