ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) –Friday evening we saw something a little different at one local high school football game. Two girl kickers were kicking in one boys’ varsity game between Boylan and Harlem.
Bella Spera kicks for Boylan. Meghan Gentry kicks for Harlem. Both of them are soccer players at their schools. Each one thought she would give football a whirl this fall for the first time. Each one earned a spot on her team during a brief summer tryout.
(Bella Spera, Boylan kicker) “I came in senior year and talked to Cacc (Boylan coach John Cacciatore) with my dad and everything, and he was really open about the decision,” said Spera. “I came out here and kicked for the first time, and he saw it and he liked it.
Cacciatore remembers that day well. “When she came to me, I just said, ‘Hey, let me find a day and let me call dad, her dad, and let’s get her out here, and let’s take a look at it.”
Spera impressed Cacciatore. She was on the team.
It was a similar scenario with Gentry at Harlem. “I was on the soccer field one day, and I really wanted to like, kick a field goal,” said Gentry. “And I kicked a field goal, like a perfect one with a soccer ball, and I was like, ‘Let’s try it with a football, so I did it. I did a perfect one straight down the middle.”
That was just for fun. Gentry later kicked for Harlem’s football coaches, and they also were impressed by ability to boot the ball between the uprights.
Harlem head coach Bob Moynihan recalls that day. “She was actually kicking with the sophomore guys, so we saw how she was kicking and we said, ‘Why don’t you come over here, and let’s see how you can do with the varsity, and so she did. She was terrific!”
Both girls were fully embraced by their teammates once those teammates saw that the girls could produce when it mattered.
Gentry admits she felt pressure to prove herself to the guys on Harlem’s team, that she was capable of doing the job.
“There was a lot of pressure. It was scary the couple first practices, but after that they were all like brothers to me now, and they like, cheer me on.”
Spera says she didn’t struggle with nerves.
“I didn’t really feel much pressure because I knew my strengths. I knew my weaknesses. I knew what I could prove to them, and I knew that I had the leg that I could prove to them I could go out there in a game and kick.”
(Scott) Going into Friday night’s game, neither kicker had attempted a field goal this season, but both have been extremely accurate on extra points. Last Friday night Spera came through under pressure booting an extra point that gave Boylan a one-point lead over Hononegah with just under seven minutes remaining.
“She’s actually a good kicker, and she gets along with the team very well,” said Boylan senior captain Tyler Mathias. “She just fits in.”
Gentry also fits in with the Huskies.
“The guys kind of protect her a little bit,” said Moynihan. “It’s funny after an extra point they’ll all go up and tap her on the head.”
There was one time a couple weeks ago at Guilford when Gentry became more than a kicker on a kickoff. She tried to make a tackle when her kick was returned deep by the Vikings.
What was going through her mind as the Guilford return man rapidly approached her on the return?
“Well, I never thought that I was going to have to tackle someone. I saw that he got the ball, and he was running toward me. I wasn’t trained to tackle, so I put my arm out to try to stop him because I thought that was going to work, but it didn’t work.”
Spera and Gentry don’t know each other well despite both of them being soccer players and now both of them being kickers on the football team, but they are aware of each other and they’re pulling for each other.
“It’s actually so cool,” said Spera. “I’m so glad she took the opportunity just like I did to do it (kick for the football team).”
“It’s just really cool,” echoed Gentry. “I love how there’s energy from the females and stuff, and I want so many other girls to start doing this. It’s such a positive experience.”
Gentry, again is sophomore. She hopes to kick for Harlem’s football team again the next two years while continuing to play the striker position in the spring for the girls soccer team. Spera is a senior. Next year she’ll give up football to focus on soccer in college.