El Centro girls competing on gridiron

September 02, 2001|By ERIC GALVAN, Sports Writer

For the first few days of "Hell Week" on the Central Union and Southwest high school football practice fields, the talk among players wasn't about how each team would fair this year or who would carry their teams. Instead it centered on how and why two players were on the field.

In a sport dominated by males, Central's Adriana Cocova and Southwest's Christina Figueroa, both 17-year-old seniors, are proving high school girls have what it takes to compete on the gridiron.

From the moment they walked onto the field each heard whispers from teammates — some were in disbelief and others weren't too kind.

But as practices went by and as each continued to return to the two- and three-a-day sessions, things started to change. Players began accepting their new female teammates.


Neither Cocova nor Figueroa is looking to shake up things or get publicity. They say they are there because they love football.

"Ever since I was in fifth grade I would watch my brother play Pop Warner and I wanted to play, too," said the 5-foot-8 Cocova. "Back then I kept asking my mom if I could play Pop Warner but she wouldn't let me. So I told her that when I got to high school, no matter what, I was going to play football."

After years of waiting, Cocova finally saw her dream fulfilled.

During her sophomore year at Brawley Union High School, Cocova participated in the team's spring football practices.

At Brawley Cocova developed the fire to compete in football, thanks to the Wildcat players who added fuel to her fire.

"When I was out there they were talking a lot and saying things to me about being out there," said Cocova, whose family moved to El Centro during her junior year.

Cocova added of her experience in Brawley, "They all just put me down … and just listening to them really pissed me off. And I think all that just gave me more motivation to play."

It took a year before Cocova made it back to the football field. This summer she approached Spartan head coach Joe Apodaca about playing.

She already was behind the rest of the players who had put in time in Central's off-season program. Knowing she was behind in workouts, Apodaca had only one stipulation for her — she couldn't miss any time.

Now, a few months after her meeting with Apodaca, Cocova has put in all the time necessary to be a part of the Spartans' varsity squad. She will be a receiver and defensive back.

"Since she's been here she's done everything we've asked her to do," said Apodaca. "I really think it's admirable that she's out here. You have to respect her for all that she's done. I think if there's a guy out here that doesn't respect her, then he probably doesn't have any self-respect at all."

The same is the case for Figueroa at Southwest. It really wasn't until completing Hell Week that she thought the rest of her teammates embraced her. What made the difference was her ability to take a hit and get up afterward.

Southwest safety Chuck Ainza, said most of the players gave her a hard time at first.

But watching her progress in each practice and completing Hell Week, she not only earned her teammates' respect but was accepted as one of their own.

"At first I think the rest of the guys were holding back when they had to hit me because I am a girl," said the 5-foot-4 Figueroa, who also will play receiver and defensive back.

"I think when they saw that I was getting hit and getting knocked down, I kept getting up. That's when they started to accept me," she said. "Now it's like they don't really see me as a girl. They treat me just like one of the guys. Now I'm one of them."

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