BELCHERTOWN, Mass. (WWLP) – Lila Roberts is just like any other high school athlete. She shows up to practice, works hard, and has a strong bond with her teammates. She’s a middle linebacker at Belchertown High School.
It’s not the first time Lila has suited up with the boys. It’s her second year with the Belchertown High Orioles and before that, she played three years of youth football in town.
“My brother used to play in the younger divisions and I used to watch his practices, and as soon as I figured out I could play, I did,” she said.
“As her parent, seeing her play can be scary,” Elizabeth Roberts said. “Initially I was a little bit worried, but there was a point where she was bigger than the boys and then as time went on, they got bigger.”
And the hits got harder.
“She told me that one of the kids rammed her and tackled her and when she was on the ground, he realized it was her and he helped her up like, ‘Oh my God, I’m sorry Lila,’ her mom recalled. “It must have taken them a little while to realize she’s rough and tumble too, and she can get knocked down and get back up and it’s okay.”
After all, football has always been a man’s sport.
“I think it’s ridiculous, but every time the coaches say ‘boys’ they add ‘and girl’ at the end,” she laughed.
Little gestures like that help Lila know that she’s a part of the team.
“She’s one of us, she’s part of the group,” team captain Hunter Klingensmith said. “If you didn’t know she was a girl off the field, you wouldn’t even know. She’s a phenomenal player and a great athlete.”
“It’s just like the same as every other guy. She tries to fit in, she plays confidently and doesn’t show any signs of being any different,” her brother Leo added.
Jason Talbot was Lila’s first coach when she first started playing at the youth level.
“Her 7th grade year she was kind of skittish out there, didn’t really know what to do out there then her 8th grade year she showed up at practice with her playbook already made and everything like that,” Talbot said. “So in all actuality, coaching a girl is a lot easier than coaching boys because they’ll put in more work sometimes, which Lila did.”
Talbot said he’s seen more girls come out and play over the last few years. He’s right. According to the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, 79 girls played high school football in the state last year. That’s up from 21 girls just ten years ago.
Head coach Ed Wyzik said it’s a pleasure having Lila on the team. Although it’s rare, it’s the second time he has coached a girl at Belchertown High.
“She’s out here, she works hard, she actually works harder than half the team,” Wyzik said. “She never gives up. It’s great to have her on the team she gives all her effort and we expect big things out of her in the future.”
As far as the team goes, Coach Wyzik said they’re taking it one game at a time.
“I think with the morale that we have and the way the kids are feeling right now, I think basically all cylinders are firing and we’re just ready for game number 2.”
When asked what keeps her going, Lila said, ” My team. They’re really good at motivating other people.”