The boys who play the game know who their most courageous teammates are, and they just as readily recognize the fastest, the smartest and the hardest working. In the weeks of physical training and full-pad practices that precede their first game, they learn to admire each other's skills and trust each other's character. Having been through much together -- and having started with equal chances to prove themselves on the field -- they become a team.
That is not what happened in Florida last Friday night, when South Plantation High fielded a girl as quarterback to run two carefully circumscribed plays.
The headlines stressed that Erin DiMeglio was the first female to play quarterback for a Florida high school football team. But reading past the headlines revealed that the formation of the team at South Plantation -- and the game of football itself -- had been altered to accommodate DiMeglio.
Last May 26, during spring practice, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported about DiMeglio: "Her father won't allow her to hit yet, limiting her to 7-on-7 drills, but her arm strength and commitment has won the respect of her teammates."
On Aug. 2, the Miami Herald reported of her coach, Doug Gatewood: "Gatewood, who didn't allow DiMeglio to get hit during spring football, said his goal is to get her into games that already have been decided or are out of reach. He also plans to play DiMeglio only in shotgun formations."
"I've played flag football since the fourth grade," Dimeglio told the paper. "Scoring on boys is really fun, just to see their reactions, see the coaches get mad."
On Aug. 29, the London Daily Mail reported: "Coach Gatewood has assured her parents that she'll have minimal field time and would only be brought in to play when the game is going favorably for the team, to avoid unnecessary roughness."
In the same story, Gatewood said, "She doesn't ask for any special treatment."
The New York Times published a story on Sept. 3, depicting Gatewood's treatment of DiMeglio in a preseason game as follows: "The one question he did not know the answer to, and did not want to know, was whether she could take a hit. So when Dimeglio dropped back for her first pass, saw no open receivers and began to roll to her left, Gatewood felt queasy. 'Go down, Rock,' he said quietly. "Go down.'"
"Gatewood knew he had to prepare her to be hit eventually," the Times reported. "Last Wednesday, he brought junior varsity players up to the varsity and taught DiMeglio the best way to take a tackle."
The Times did not say whether her coaches drilled DiMeglio in making tackles.