'Feel the fear and do it anyway'

Traditionally, football has always been considered a boy's sport. In recent years, more females have started to play on middle school, high school and college teams. Self-proclaimed tomboy Dollinda Jackson, an eighth-grader at Wilson STEM Academy, is now among those females after landing a spot as a running back on her school's football team.

"I've always played football in my neighborhood," said Dollinda. "This summer, the boys kept saying I was fast and should try out for the school's football team. So when I heard the announcement for tryouts, I decided to go for it."

Telling her parents wasn't difficult but their reactions were different.

"My mom gave me this look and said, 'I don't recommend you do it but I'll support you.' She would've felt that way even if I was a boy because it's a high-impact sport,'" said Dollinda. "My dad loved the idea and said, 'go for it.'"

The day of tryouts, she walked towards the field, stood back and observed. She started having second thoughts about it but quickly regained her confidence. "Feel the fear and do it anyway" are words Dollinda says she lives by.

"In my head I was like, 'Is it too late to leave?' but I stayed. I would've regretted it if I had left," she said. "To calm my nerves, I threw the ball around a little with some boys I knew before making my way onto the field."

Dollinda remembers getting a few weird looks as she walked by. When she reached Coach Christopher Troutman, she said his words made her feel at ease. He told her about the female football player who was on his middle and high school team and how she had been a good middle linebacker, one of the toughest positions.

The position of running back is what comes naturally to Dollinda, who noted simply, "I like to run." She had been a sprinter on the school's track team a year earlier and used it to her advantage.

"I'm still learning how to play the game on an official team. In practice, I mess up sometimes and it frustrates me more than it does them," said Dollinda. "I'm one of the guys when I'm on that field but they do tend to protect me a little more. I appreciate it, though. We are teammates so we are supposed look out for each other."

The opposing teams don't usually know Dollinda is a girl because the team is in full gear when they hit the field. She says she gets a kick out of seeing the other team's reaction when the game is over and she takes off her helmet to shake their hands.

"When I hear, 'Did we play with a girl' or 'She took a hit like that' — it's a compliment. It shows that at that moment in that game, I was just an athlete playing a sport I love."

Coach Troutman says she is an asset to the team.

"The guys and I absolutely love Dollinda," said Troutman. "She doesn't allow anyone to take it easy on her and she has a great energy. The bond they have is heartwarming."

Dollinda feels the bond, too.

"There was this one time we circled up and one of our teammates told us something from his heart. He cried and I hugged him," said Dollinda. "He made himself vulnerable and that's hard for anybody to do. I respect that a lot."

Now she plans to try out for the high school team.

"I know my limits but I push past them. I am terrified when I'm on the field. I know they may come at me harder but I'm good with it. It's part of the game," she said. "If you own you're scared, you can overcome it."