Football has long been a male-dominated domain, but women are gradually putting their own stamp on the sport. This week, Yahoo Sports will examine the inroads that women have made at every level of the game.
Dressed in her No. 14 McKinley High School football jersey, Alexandria Buchanan might be mistaken for any other typical football player on game night.
She’d prefer it that way.
But Buchanan is more than the typical high school sophomore varsity quarterback. She’s a history-making player.
Last month, Buchanan became the first female quarterback in Hawaii state history to complete a touchdown pass on the varsity level. Local and national media swarmed the 1,700-student Honolulu school with interview requests to hear Buchanan’s story. But while Buchanan is grateful for the support, she’s not interested in taking the credit.
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“I just want people to focus on my team, like that’s one of the biggest things because it’s always ‘Alexandria Buchanan from McKinley’ or ‘McKinley’s girl quarterback,’” Buchanan said. “I really appreciate that they care, but I wouldn’t be doing any of this without them, and I want them to know that I appreciate them. My teammates, my coaches and all of my supporters, I just care and love them so much, and I wouldn’t be doing any of this without them.”
Buchanan said her high school has a strong history of female football players at the JV level, as does a neighboring school in Hawaii, Castle High. Some have been kickers, but for all, playing time and earning starting positions have been challenging, Buchanan said.
From parks to playing time
Even before she could barely walk, Buchanan’s dad would take her to play in a community park. Those trips became routine through the years.
Being that Buchanan describes her father as really “into sports,” she said she asked him to teach her how to throw a football, and he agreed. She then took her skills to a flag football league in seventh grade at the Boys and Girls Club, playing quarterback. The chance to run an offense and compete with her peers on the gridiron inspired Buchanan to go out for the high school team.
Despite her father’s initial instruction on the game, Buchanan said her father wasn’t thrilled about letting his daughter out onto the field to play high school tackle football. Neither of her parents initially thought her idea was a good one.
“They freaked out, they were like, ‘No, you are not, you are crazy.’ They just panicked,” Buchanan said.
While the “panic” has mostly subsided, Buchanan said her parents still worry about the size difference between her and the other athletes on the field. Buchanan’s ScoringLive.com profile lists her at 5-foot-8 and 125 pounds, not small, but certainly not as big as other members of her team and opposing players who exceed 200 pounds.
In spite of her parents’ concerns, Buchanan continues to earn playing time. She notched her second touchdown of the season one week after her debut, and has totaled 229 yards of 17-of-37 passing for the season thus far. McKinley has struggled so far this season, going 0-5. Buchanan has played quarterback in three of the games.
Buchanan’s contributions to football extend beyond her stats on the field. She serves as a trailblazer and an example for other women who also hope to play the game, particularly the quarterback position, at the high school level and beyond.
Buchanan said that she has received a letter from a mom in Hawaii whose daughter wants to play football, like Buchanan, but the mom is hesitant. Buchanan can relate. She knows that parents may be nervous about sending their kids out on the field, but she said the team aspect of the game creates a built-in support system that can be helpful.
She’s seen this first-hand.
“I think it really depends on your coaches and your team because I was lucky to be blessed with a team supported me wholeheartedly this whole time,” she said. “If you’re on a team that is not very open, I think it will be a lot harder, but I think anybody that sees me putting in work and is going to see you trying your very best, they are going to have to respect you in some way.”
Buchanan’s history-making pass to teammate Ace Asis might not have happened had it not been for the encouragement and support of her coach, Pat Silva. Buchanan played JV football as a freshman and she planned to do the same as a sophomore. In fact, Buchanan didn’t know until a week before her first game in August that she would be playing at the varsity level.
She said Silva “saw something in her,” but she emphasizes that he is not the only one in her circle who deserves credit for helping her find success on the varsity team.
McKinley High coach Pat Silva told Yahoo Sports that he doesn’t comment on individual players, but he has praised Buchanan in interviews with local outlets.
“As far as I’m concerned and our staff is concerned, she’s our starting quarterback,” Silva said in an interview with Hawaii Prep World. “We decided she’s our best option moving forward. She has the highest percentage of completions in practice [and] throws a really good ball with good touch.”
Buchanan said her social media feed has also been filled with mostly positive messages since she became part of the varsity team. She said she knows that other communities may not accept female quarterbacks with such support, but she still encourages all women to suit up if football is their passion.
“I really, really want them to know that they shouldn’t give up just because people aren’t fully supportive at first,” Buchanan said when asked about her advice to young players. “If you put in the work, and they see you, they are going to respect you for it.”
Coaches, like Silva at McKinley High, can help set a culture of support on a team, and sometimes, when they give a player a chance, magic can happen. For Buchanan, that special moment occurred on the field in Hawaii, but 4,848 miles away, on the other side of the country, another young female quarterback threw her first touchdown pass just one week later.
Holly Neher, the first woman to complete a touchdown pass in Florida, generated media attention for her accomplishment, and said her coach’s trust in her to make the play helped calm her nerves and allowed her to execute.
“He pulled me aside, he could tell I was a little nervous, he said ‘Holly, you practice every day. If I didn’t think you could do it, I wouldn’t put you in, and I know you can do it,’” Neher said in an ESPN interview with Sage Steele. “And he gave me my little pep talk, and he told me I could do it and there is no reason to be scared and he said my brothers will protect me.”
Neher had played flag football the year before and made the jump to tackle football with the encouragement of her coaches. Like Buchanan, Neher worked her way into the history books, and Buchanan expects that many young women will follow in these footsteps.
“I think [there’s] going to be more players as time goes on because I think we are starting to see that we can do even if people don’t believe in us right now,” Buchanan said. “I think slowly people are going to accept that we can and we will because right now it’s mainly just a guy sport, but what they don’t realize is that there are so many girls out there that have the talent and the dedication and the commitment, it’s just you have to give them a chance.”
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