Girls on football team for first time in school history

Maeve Kelly and Amanda Lindholm the first girls to play JV and Frosh/Soph football at NT



Freshman Maeve Kelly is the first female linebacker and fullback for the freshman and sophomore team

Freshman Maeve Kelly and Senior Amanda Lindholm are breaking boundaries as the first female football players in school history. 

While they come from vastly different backgrounds, they share a passion for football that has led them to join the NT program.

Football is assumed to be a boys-only sport. In the entire country, only 2,404 girls played high school football in the 2018-19 school year, making up 0.2% of all players nationwide according to the National Federation of State High Schools Association. But female participation has increased every year since 2014.

Kelly has been playing football since third grade and grew up playing  through the North Shore Trevians football program. She currently plays linebacker and fullback for the freshman/sophomore team. 

Kelly was raised in a family that loves sports. Three of her five older brothers played football growing up, but they were not her sole inspiration to play. 

“[Football] was a fun and healthy way to release my anger,” she explained. “I always wanted to try it. [Tackling people] is really fun. We get to hit people all the time. I love decking kids.” 

Kelly praised freshman/sophomore coach Chris Pearson as “really nice” and a good coach.

She said her favorite part of the team is her relationships with the other players. She admitted that being the only girl on the team can be awkward at times, but she is still close with her male teammates.

“They don’t treat me different at all,” Kelly said. “You can’t talk to [the guys] about a lot of things, and they have to realize that I’m there, but we’re really tight.”

After freshman year, Kelly hopes to move up to JV and eventually the varsity team. Her coach lauded her performance thus far this season.

“Maeve has been great. She’s a two-way starter for us, a really positive presence on the team. I’ve been really impressed with her, and everyone likes her,” said Chris Pearson, Kelly’s coach.

Lindholm, meanwhile, didn’t even know what football was when she came to the U.S. from Finland as an AFS exchange student.

“We don’t have American football in Finland, but I went to [varsity football’s] first game and was like, I need to try that,” Lindholm said.

She talked to NT’s football staff, and it took several weeks to secure a tryout. The coaches ultimately decided the junior varsity team was the best starting point for her to learn the rules and adjust to the physicality of the game. 

“[They] wanted to keep me safe because the guys are huge compared to me,” explained Lindholm. “That doesn’t mean I can’t move up to varsity, but I have to be ready physically and mentally for the coaches to see if I’m ready or not.”

Lindholm is currently listed as a running back, a spot she likes because it allows her to use her speed. She acknowledged that having a girl on the team is a new situation for everyone. 

“I’m not sure if the team has fully accepted a girl, or even the coaches yet. I think it’s like they have never coached a girl, especially in football, and sometimes I think people don’t know how to act around me.” 

JV head coach Mike Napoleon commended Lindholm for trying football despite having no prior experience. 

“She is very enthusiastic and daring to try a sport that she has never seen and is learning the rules of another country where she doesn’t even know the culture. I give her a lot of credit,” said Napoleon.

Football isn’t Lindholm’s first experience with a contact sport — she played soccer for 11 years and hockey for 8 years before coming to NT. 

She is considering trying out for the boys’ hockey team, but hasn’t made up her mind yet. However her hesitation is not because she’s uneasy playing on a boys’ team. 

“I’d rather play with boys,” Lindholm said. “I played my whole life with the boys. I have a big brother and little brother. When we were children, there wasn’t a girls team for five-year-olds, so I went to the boys’ team.”

While Lindholm initially played only for fun, her fellow coaches and teammates were quick to pick up on her natural abilities.

“I was good apparently; they said every year if I wasn’t good enough they would move me to the girls team, but I was always good enough, so I stayed, and they wanted to keep me,” said Lindholm. 

Kelly also plays basketball and runs track, but those sports have teams for girls, unlike football. She and Lindholm will look to contribute on their teams as they pioneer the way for female football players at New Trier.

“I’m excited for the rest of the season,” said Kelly. “Especially [our game against] Evanston.”