Somerville High senior Emma Youte is a quadruple threat: student, singer, actor, athlete.
She’s even a three-sport athlete. In the spring, she runs track and field. In the winter, basketball. And in the fall… football?
Yes, football. And wearing No. 16 and playing in an almost-entirely male league hasn’t always been easy.
“When I came to the high school, I got it so much from the guys,” Youte says.
“They would make these little comments like, ‘go play volleyball,’ ‘you’re soft,’ ‘we don’t need girls on the team.’”
Youte says the friction even extended to the coaching staff.
“The first time I started, we had lifting, and the lifting coach at the time, every day he’d see me he’d say, ‘oh I’m surprised you keep coming back,’” Youte said. “He would make me do the worst tasks ever, like flipping tires that were 500 pounds, running up the hill, backpedaling down, pushing these metal benches that we had in the gym – so heavy! – by myself.”
While Youte admits all that hostility led to a few tears behind closed doors, the overall effect was invigorating.
“I’m kind of the type of person that, if you told me ‘no,’ I’m just going to say ‘yes,’” Youte said. “I’m just going to do it anyway.”
Things finally turned around for Youte this season, especially with the influx of young players.
“I finally went to football camp, and there were a couple of new guys joining the team,” Youte said. “They [the coaches] said, ‘if you don’t have a sister, or if you do have a sister, here’s another one.’ That right there, I was like, ‘they’ve finally welcomed me to the team.’”
Youte has played on all three units for the Highlanders – mostly with the junior varsity squad – playing wide receiver on offense and then switching sides to play cornerback on defense. She also helps out on special teams coverage.
Her biggest wish: a touchdown reception of the varsity squad.
The most telling sign that Youte has become a typical football player: the way she handled the concussion she suffered during a tackling drill at a practice last season.
“I tried to recover as fast as I could,” Youte said. “Even lied to the trainer so I could get back on the way.”
While Youte says her mother can’t bear to watch her daughter play any sport, let alone football, for fear of injury, her father has been her “biggest supporter.” Her friends have also been very supportive, although Youte says her male friends occasionally tell her not to get too buff “because you are a girl, and that’s kind of gross.”
While Youte may be the only female football players wearing Somerville’s red and blue, she is far from the only female playing football at Dilboy Stadium. The Boston Militia, 2011 national champions of the Women’s Football Alliance, play there in the spring and summer.
Youte began her football training with Somerville physical education teacher Sharyn Wacht, a former Militia linebacker and defensive end. They focused especially on lifting and strength-buildup.
“She didn’t start me off easy,” Youte said. “She started me off hard, like what she was doing. And I was like, ‘oh my gosh, this is nuts!’ But she really pushed me, and she’s a really good player.”
Youte added that the Militia have already tried to recruit her for their upcoming season, but she isn’t sure she wants to risk a second concussion.
Youte’s football career may come to a close when this season ends. She says she wants to study acting in college, having applied to schools such as Boston University, UMass-Amherst and Emerson University. Youte says her time with the Highlanders has been worth the hardship.
“When I was doing it, I really wasn’t thinking about anyone else,” she says. “I was thinking about myself, because it’s what I’m interested in. I’m not here to prove a point, that’ girls can play. It’s just something I love to do.”
Still, Youte is aware she’s leaving behind a legacy and setting a trend all the same.
“On our way to NFL camp, I walked past Clarendon Hill, and I had my football stuff in my hand. Everybody there – I didn’t know anybody there – they just started clapping … and all the little girls were all inspired. And a couple of days later, when I walked past there again to go to camp, the same little girls that saw me had Pop Warner pads.”