“I want [the younger girls] to see me and think, ‘If she can do it, I can too.'” Maggie VanWagnen, Napoleon Pirates’ JV Football Kicker.
Above, Maggie VanWagnen practices kicking during half-time.
Story and photos
by Christine MacIntyre
Football fans gear up for the sport as soon as summer winds down, and we see the first traces of fall. The football season is in the fall; people associate football with fall. Similarly, the people who play the sport are typically males. Football players are, more often than not, men; people associate football with men. As gender-related social norms broaden and stereotypes disintegrate, a girl on the football field still surprises many people.
However, Napoleon High School sophomore Maggie VanWagnen hopes to be a role model for younger generations, as she is the junior varsity football team’s kicker. With an impressive background playing soccer, her knack for the game comes as no surprise. She made her debut in the Pirates’ game facing the Grass Lake Warriors Monday, October 4. The game, a close 27–25 loss for the Pirates, was a close one as the Warriors scored in the last second of the game.
Maggie VanWagnen is seen kicking the football during the Napoleon JV football game against Grass Lake.
“My best friends played football and were always talking about how much fun it was,” she says. She recalls watching football and thinking about how fun it looked while clinging to the assumption that she couldn’t play because of being a female and, therefore, doubting her abilities.
“I grew up around the game,” Maggie says, adding that “every Saturday and Sunday there was a [football] game on my TV screen.” After a hiatus from Napoleon Community Schools and a one-year stint at Jackson High School to seek additional academic opportunities and diverse experiences, she returned to her hometown school. Right away, she informed her parents she wanted to play football.
While many have assumed her parents would have safety concerns, given the nature of the sport, her parents, Aaron and Lenae VanWagnen say Maggie is tougher than she appears. “She’s solid. Plus, she’s played soccer for years – soccer can be aggressive and they don’t get to wear pads like they do in football. So it’s not Maggie I’m worried about; it’s whoever she ends up tackling.” (more below)
Her fellow Pirates and their coach have been highly supportive, as well. JV Coach Michael Blanchard says she has been a great addition to the team. “When she returned to Napoleon Schools, [Maggie] said, ‘I’m back!’ and she was committed from that moment to the JV placekicker position regardless of an opening.”
Several peers in her close friend group, including her best friend Mason Roth, a sophomore and the team’s full-back and inside linebacker, currently play on the team. Fist bumps, cheers, and encouragement were plentiful throughout the game Monday night.
“Maggie definitely has the right competitive nature and drive to want to be a good player. That, mixed with her infectious laugh and sense of humor, she’s been an easy fit with this group,” says Blanchard. “I’m extremely proud of her efforts and appreciate her energy out on the field.”
Hoping to be an inspiration to others, Maggie VanWagnen, donning a football uniform and gear,
kicks stereotypes and gender-related norms to the curb.
Scoring her first-ever extra point was an exciting way to kick off her involvement in this football season. Maggie’s game has already improved with her soccer talents combined with practicing and working with Jack Lee, a new hire at Napoleon High School. “She’s really showed an improvement since her first outing,” says Blanchard.
Sports, either games or practices, consume her evenings, Monday through Friday, including additional time on the weekends. Soccer has afforded her many opportunities, as she plays for a travel team. She plays on the Michigan Jaguars FC 2006 Girls Academy team, who are three-time State Champions in the Michigan State Youth Soccer Association. She played for the 2006 Girls ODP State and Midwest (Regional) Team in 2020. Last season, her team qualified for the Girls Academy National Playoffs, where they traveled to California and came one goal short of advancing into the quarter-finals. While in California, she and her team played IMG Academy and tied 1–1. (more below)
When she isn’t playing sports, Maggie says she enjoys hanging out with her family, including her parents and two sisters, lake days, driving trucks, and meeting new friends.
Insisting her joining the football team has nothing to do with her, Maggie says, “It has everything to do with the younger girls. I am doing it for them.” After recognizing the void in her own life of a role model to tell her, as a female, that she could play football and she could play it well, she took it upon herself to become that role model. “I want [the younger girls] to see me and think, ‘If she can do it, I can too.'”
Get your float ready for Christmas!
Santa and Mrs. Claus are preparing their sleigh, so it’s time for you to prepare your float for Brooklyn’s Christmas Parade as well. The parade will be held Friday, November 26 in conjunction with the annual tree lighting ceremony in downtown Brooklyn. So get to work! The parade route has been extended to wind its way through town, and it is one of the great nights in the community! Stay tuned for more details coming in the weeks leading up to the event in the Exponent.