Thalia Townsend was allowed to start practicing with the West Carroll middle school football team this week after a couple of months of disagreement between her parents and the school’s administration about whether or not a girl should be allowed to play.
There have been a number of girls play middle school or high school football in West Tennessee in recent years including Humboldt, Huntingdon, McKenzie and Bruceton.
Add the McNairy County town of Michie to that list too.
Jourdan Dengler played football for Michie Junior High two years ago.
She’s the younger sister of Jacob Dengler, who just graduated from Adamsville High School after being named the All-West Tennessee Defensive Player of the Year in 2014 and was one player opposing coaches kept an eye on in game-planning and on Friday nights.
Michael Cleary is the coach of the team at Michie and a physical education teacher at the school. He had Jourdan in class and made the suggestion for her to come out for the team in the spring.
“She was on the track team, and I saw her parents at a meet and suggested it,” Cleary said. “Her mom kind of laughed it off at first, but I told them I think she’d be OK at it.”
At the time, Jourdan was among the tallest students in class at what Cleary estimated was between 5-feet-6 to 5-feet-8. She played basketball for the girls’ team, but when P.E. was over each day, she’d play a pick-up game with the boys more often than not.
“She’d get in there and scrap with them as much as any of the boys would,” Cleary said.
Jourdan said her mother was OK with it if Jourdan wanted to do it.
“I thought about it for a little while and then decided to try it to see if I would enjoy it,” Jourdan said.
She did. Cleary put her in the defensive secondary first and some at defensive end. But Jourdan said her main position was playing linebacker, the same position her brother played.
She also played on offense as a receiver, and Cleary said that was a good way to use her quickness. She was a sprinter on Michie’s track team and still does so at Adamsville.
“It was fun,” Jourdan said. “I was nervous at first, but I felt like I got the hang of it pretty quick.”
Cleary said she did get the hang of it and did manage to be a solid tackler for Michie.
“It took her a few days before she looked like she was comfortable tackling, but she got it,” Cleary said. “She wasn’t the strongest person out there, but she could get a hold of somebody and hang on to them until help got there to help bring the carrier down.”
Cleary said Jourdan was Michie’s leading tackler in the opening game.
“The team we played kept running the ball to her side to test her to see if she could tackle,” Cleary said. “They found out she could.”
Jourdan stuck with it and helped Michie to a 5-3 season. She was named the team’s defensive MVP at the end of the year.
“Some people questioned that choice, but she made all the other players around her better. Isn’t that what you want from your MVP?” Cleary said. “All these boys saw this girl out there bringing down guys, and they felt like they needed to be doing more than her.”
Jourdan played football for that one season only. The idea came up to try out for the team at Adamsville when she made it there, but that wasn’t going to happen.
“Jacob wouldn’t let me,” Jourdan said. “He’d hurt the guy that hurt me worse, so we thought I should just stay off the field in high school.”
Cleary said any coach who might have the choice to make about whether or not to allow a girl to play football shouldn’t hesitate.
“If a girl wants to play, there’s no reason not to,” Cleary said. “Either it will be harder than she thought, and she won’t want to do it anymore or she’ll help the team.
“Who doesn’t want that?”
Brandon Shields, 425-9751