To hear her say it, Tessa Kucharski was always going to play high school football. She just had to pick her spot.
Finally, as a junior that spot came to her. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, Kucharski, a varsity cheerleader, told the Neuqua Valley football coaching staff last January that she wanted to play for the team in 2018. They responded with an aggressive conditioning plan that would help her build muscle and mass to compete with male classmates.
For Kucharski, the key was taking part in the football program’s offseason workouts, which were held at 5:45 am four days a week. Neuqua Valley coach Bill Ellinghaus said Kucharski hardly missed a single practice in the offseason run-in.
When football season arrived and Kucharski was presented with a choice between a spot as a safety on the junior varsity football team and her traditional cheerleading role, she didn’t hesitate (she’ll return to take part in the competitive cheer season after football finishes).
In fact, the first-year football player thinks her new sport might even be safer than cheerleading, as she told the Tribune:
“I think my odds are better with football,” Kucharski said.
There are logistical hurdles, including the need for a separate space for Kucharski to dress when the team is on the road. Still when the bright lights hit the field, Kucharski is just another player out there to make a big tackle for Neuqua Valley.
“I made a good tackle (in a recent game),” Kucharski told the Tribune. “Everybody cheered. I felt pretty accepted.”
See? All her teammates cared about was her ability to perform. All that Kucharski cared about what being given the chance. They’re both being rewarded for their simultaneous determination and open-mindedness.
As for the larger lessons Kucharski has taken away, she told USA TODAY High School Sports that her success has been borne out of passion and determination, not talent.
“I really feel that teens should know that it doesn’t matter your age, gender, or size but it’s the work and dedication you put into your dreams that show who you really are as an athlete.”