Meet Mary Staudt and Noel Boettger, Iowa girls blazing a trail as high school football players
HUXLEY, Ia. — Two years ago, Noel Boettger was diligently doing her duties as a manager for the Ballard freshman football team when she was told something she'd been waiting to hear since she was little.
"She was busting her tail," Ballard co-head football coach Kyle Howard said. "The funny thing is she would just run everywhere. If we needed something done, she would run and do it. Our freshman coach said, 'Geez, you should just play football.'"
Boettger's eyes instantly lit up.
"I actually didn't know I could play," Boettger said this week, remembering that moment. "I asked one of the coaches and they said, 'If your parents are fine with it, then it's OK.' I've loved football since I was 6. As soon as I saw the opportunity, I took it."
Collins-Maxwell junior Mary Staudt also grew up knowing one day she wanted to put on shoulder pads and a helmet.
Staudt started off playing volleyball her freshman year. But she spent her childhood watching her older brother, Brock, and father, Phillip, share a love for football, so it didn't take much to get her to change gears.
"I got really sick of volleyball my freshman year," Staudt said.
"So I tried (football) out and I liked it."
With the 2021 Iowa high school football season kicking into full gear this Friday, Boettger and Staudt are still going strong entering their junior years on the gridiron. And they may be blazing a trail for future girls at their respective schools.
"Girls' wrestling has really grown in the last few years," Collins-Maxwell head football coach Greg Davis said. "I don’t see why football couldn't be any different."
According to 2019 data provided by the National Federation of State High School Associations, the number of girls' participating in 11-player football has doubled over the past decade to 2,404.
There were 55 girls participating in Iowa high school football for the 2020-2021 school year, according to the Iowa High School Athletic Association. Of those girls, 43 competed in 11-player football and 12 in 8-player.
Ballard is an 11-player team in Class 3A and Collins-Maxwell is an 8-player program.
Girl football players have gained notoriety in recent years, but it's usually been for their exploits as a kicker. Last year, Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller became the female to participate in a Division I power-conference football game.
Boettger and Staudt, on the other hand, want to be in the action.
"One of the biggest reasons I like it is because I get pushed more than any other sport that I play," Boettger said. "There's always a ton of competition and slacking is not an option. No matter how hard I work, there's always somebody above me to push me."
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Boettger plays wide receiver and cornerback. Staudt plays offensive guard and defensive tackle.
With boys having a size and strength advantage, Boettger and Staudt have both taken their lumps. But they've kept at it and earned the respect of their peers.
"I was initially surprised the first year I saw Noel out there, but now it's just normal," Ballard starting cornerback Colby Calvert said. "I line up against her quite a bit and she doesn't back down. She comes right at me. She knows what she brings to the table and everyone respects that."
Staudt's older brother, Brock, has loved watching his sister play football.
"My favorite memory has to be her lining up against a 6-4, 300-pound man and giving him a run for his money every play," he said. "As her brother, that made me so proud to see her dig deep and fight every play against a guy five times her size. There's nothing she can't do if she puts her mind to it."
Mental toughness has helped the girls make up for what they lack in size and strength. They find other ways to gain an edge over their competition.
"I like to know every single play," Boettger said. "I've studied our whole playbook. For me to know what everyone does every single play helps me know exactly where I need to run my route and exactly what I need to do. It helps me get in better position to overcome the disadvantages."
Staudt said she's learning how to chop block in order to keep bigger defensive linemen in check.
"Any athlete willing to put in the time and effort is going to see success," Davis said. "Mary is one of those athletes."
The girls are already reaping the rewards for their efforts. Boettger played in the fourth quarter of Ballard's game last year against Mason City.
"When she checked into the game the reaction from the stands was so loud," Howard said. "It was a really cool moment."
The Bomber coach sees Boettger as a role model.
"I have a daughter myself," Howard said. "She's just 1 year old, but I want her to know she can do whatever she wants to and Noel is a great example of dedicating herself, working hard and not letting anything get in her way."
Collins-Maxwell senior Jane'e Jones shares Howard's sentiment.
Jones also plays football for the Spartans, but she had to call it quits before the start of the 2021 season due to shin splints. Though her playing days are over, Jones — who will still be a manager for the Spartans — has a lot of pride in seeing the road that she, Staudt and other players like Boettger have paved for other girls in the state.
"My favorite part is when parents from other teams mention how we are girls on the team and that their daughter wants to do football as well," Jones said. "I encourage girls who are debating on going out for football to just give it a try. You only live once."