When the Portland JV football team took to the field on Wednesday night at Ovid-Elsie it looked pretty much like every other JV football team on opening night. It marked the beginning of Coach Phil Savage’s 25th year as a football coach, with the last ten years at Portland, and it also marked the first time in all his years of coaching that he has had a girl on his team.
It would be near impossible to pick her out of all the players on the sideline, with shoulder pads and helmets on and in place, except for the long blond braid cascading down her back and resting at the top of jersey #12. Portland Sophomore, Madison “Madi” Luxmore, was ready to play and had earned a spot as team kicker. “She has wanted to play football since the sixth grade”, her mother Christine shared with the Beacon as the game began, “but she has been really into soccer, playing on several regional teams and at the national level as well”.
The opportunity to go out for football came last spring as Madi sat in class at Portland High School, where she is an Honor student with a 4.0 GPA and heard an announcement that there would be a “Boys football meeting” that night after school. “BOYS football meeting?!!”, Madi exclaimed to herself, as she got up out of her seat and marched down to Varsity Coach John Novara’s office. “I’d like to try out for football”, she told him. Novara, who has been Portland’s Varsity Coach for 21 years with a State championship in 2012 as well as last year’s Division 5 Runner-up trophy, looked up, “At first she surprised me. Then I thought she is an amazing Cross-Country runner, why would she give that up?” Madi was not only the fastest girl’s Cross-Country runner for the Portland varsity team as a freshman but was the team leader as well. However, Novara saw the determination in her eyes and agreed to give her a try-out. “How could I say no?”, Novara confided. “She is a very good student and an awesome kid”.
“Girls playing high school football in Michigan are not unheard of”, Geoff Kimmerley, Michigan High School Athletic Association spokesperson, told The Beacon in a recent interview. “In 2018 there were 112 girls officially listed on 92 high school teams in Michigan. But, considering there are almost 35,000 players its not that common either”. Nationwide there are an estimated one million high school football players with about 2,000 of them being girls. Kimmerley shared that girl football players in Michigan are a little more common at the smaller schools and that many of them are former soccer players who are their football team’s kickers. “There are no special rules or protections regulating play or safety for girls who play football. Everyone who plays has the same opportunities and rules of contact”, Kimmerley concluded.
It only takes a few minutes talking with Madi Luxmore to be charmed by her poised, confident and graceful manner. She has an engaging smile and a strong handshake. “I’m a huge Packers fan and I’ve always wanted to play football”, she said, “but soccer kept me too busy. My Dad told me that I should try things while I’m still young. So here I am”. When asked about what her parents think about her playing football she smiled and said, “Well, my mom is worried that I am going to get hurt, while my dad is bragging to everyone that his daughter plays football”.
Coach Savage told the Beacon, “Madi is going to be limited to PAT’s and Field Goals. She will not have kick-off duties because we are not going to want her to take hard hits. She is a really good kicker and consistently connects on 30-yard field goals in practice”. He then had Madi demonstrate her skills in a team field goal drill. She connected on 5 out of 7 with distance to spare. Savage turned and laughed, “You can never have enough good kickers like that!”
So far Madi loves playing football. She has participated in all the pre-season conditioning drills and told the Beacon that she is not worried about getting hit. While her playing time will be limited exclusively to kicking duties, she exclaimed with a big smile, “I’m ready to go in the game as the back-up wide receiver if someone gets hurt”. Madi is quick to point out that “The boys have been so supportive of me. They have taken me into their football family. Cameron Roof, the boys’ Varsity kicker, has been really encouraging and so has Tate Dziewiatkowski from last year’s team.”
The Raider JV team eventually lost the game at Ovid-Elsie on Wednesday by a score of 7-0. It was a defensive battle that saw the Raiders get close, but not close enough for a field goal try. Madi did not get a chance to kick in her first game. Her mom, Christine, who stood along the sidelines and watched the whole game hoping for a Portland score and a chance for Madi to get in the game, reflected, “Do I get nervous? Sure. But she is so tired and happy when she comes home after practice at night. I’m happy for her!”
Coach Novara reports that he has never had a girl play football on the varsity level. Currently, three girls are participating in the Raider Jr. Football program and Madi is the only girl playing at the high school level for the Raiders. Asked if she thought she might play at the varsity level next year she looked up with a determined look, that Coach Novara must have experienced in his office, and said, “If Cameron and Tate can do it, so can I!” Which is exactly the response you’d expect from a young lady whose goal after high school is to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.