TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) — It’s a brisk Friday night in Western York as hundreds of fans from around Tonawanda pack into the Lumberyard.
They’re there to watch a long standing rivalry go down on the gridiron. Home team, and favorites, North Tonawanda are taking on the team from across town, the Tonawanda High School Warriors.
Nerves are running high for the players as they prepare. Suiting up like everyone else is Tonawanda’s number 40.
“I’ve thought about it but it hasn’t settled yet,” said Alicia Farrell. “It’s a big moment.”
That big moment is historical because Farrell has one distinct difference than everyone else on the field – she’s a girl.
“All the guys on my team are good with it,” said Farrell, who’s a Warriors wide receiver. “Sometimes it gets a little lonely being the only girl.”
“It’s just natural to have Alicia around,” said Bob Gross, the Tonawanda Football head coach. “We don’t even see it as different or unique. She’s part of us.”
Farrell fell in love with football at a young age. She picked up a pigskin with her friends at recess in elementary school. Her dad tragically died when Farrell was five. She turned to her older brothers as male role models and they were playing football.
“All of my friends wanted to play in third or fourth grade so I asked my mom I could play with them and at first she said no,” recalls Farrell.
“I was nervous,” said Mary Linn Farrell, Alicia’s mom. “She was very shy, not outgoing. I was very concerned. I didn’t even understand why she wanted to play.”
After some convincing, Mary Linn decided to let Alicia play.
“She fit in well.”
In the youth leagues, Farrell proved she could play with the boys, silencing critics with her slant routes. She said her male teammates stood up for her whenever opponents would pick at her.
When it came time to move on to higher levels, she faced tougher opponents – the school district.
“They said she had to take some test,” said Mary Linn. “It was a very, very hard test that non of the boys had to take. I couldn’t understand why they would make her do this.”
Mary Linn fought for Alicia to have equal treatment and playing time, even going to Section VI to discuss the testing.
Alicia wound up passing it – proving she was physically fit to play with the guys, and became the first female football player for the school’s program.
That season, she put on the pads and this year, she earned her varsity letter.
“I never thought I would make varsity,” said Alicia. “I am proud of myself.”
Now, under the Friday night lights, she’s not only breaking tackles —
“It was awesome,” said Alicia about being able to take the field during the big game, even though Tonawanda fell to North Tonawanda, 53-30. “It was nice to get out there. It was a totally different feeling than the sidelines.”
She’s also breaking down barriers and making a different for other female football players.
“She’s really paving the way for other girls who might want to play some day,” said Mary Linn.
“She doesn’t realize yet but she’s a role model,” said Coach Gross. “She’s setting an example for the future.”
As for Alicia’s future, she hopes to start during her season season with the Warriors.
After that, she said she will probably be hanging up her pads, helmet and cleats and calling it a career – one that took strength, on and off the gridiron, to get to.