Written by Kyla Sevilla
It was just minutes after classes were dismissed when two of my fellow female classmates and I casually looked out the window as we watched the soccer teams train on the field. The only women in sight were the players’ supportive moms and girlfriends.
I studied in a small private school with rigid academic training. Sports did not thrive as much. The school took pride in our lone three varsity teams - in swimming, basketball, and football. Only the first sport was initially inclusive of women. The numbers are bad in the Philippines, let alone in the small and humble province that I live in. Almost all varsity teams from all schools in all towns were of male composition. Girls were only viewed as “lucky charms” on the bleachers as they cheer.
The year 2015 was also the year that my friends and I decided to change all of this. We wanted to create more space for us, women, to play and excel in sports. We were exhausted from hearing that we only needed to be skillful in fields outside of these sports and just inside the home. We believed that the construct of gender roles indoctrinated even in students as early as elementary cannot contribute to society’s progress. We were only sixteen - too ambitious for our age, but we still went for it.
Without any hesitation, we stopped watching our guy friends on the field and sprinted outside to talk to their football coach. Coach “T” was a breeze to talk to. He was open, understanding, and aligned his visions with ours. To sum it all up - he told us to gather more girls and form a team so we can start soccer training the week after. Hence, with all our might, we took this to social media and messaged almost all high school girls in our school - about a hundred. A lot of them rejected the idea. Some were hesitant. Some said they would think about it and eventually forgot about it. However, the few that were all in did not know that they would be starting a legacy in my homeland of 1,313,560 citizens.
Speaking of legacies, I testify that hardships help build these. Struggles as small as lack of equipment were hard to overcome. We struggled to find the right soccer cleats for us. Less than a hundred pairs of soccer shoes were sold in our province and given the demographic, most sizes were for men. The solution? We decided to train with rubber shoes, and sometimes even barefooted. They did not produce much friction. When we started training, many slips and slides bruised our legs, but certainly not our ambitions.
Another brawl we had to literally fight through was the training system. We were all newbies, to simply put it. The coach had a hard time incorporating concepts of tackling and bodying to us because admittedly, we started off fragile and soft. His solution? He let us train with and play against the guys. It was difficult for us at first, but eventually, it helped us build our range of stamina, agility, and strength. It was amusing, though. Every time a boy tackled us, there would always be a follow-up apology. It was the most I ever heard a boy apologize.
Eventually, it was time for our debut as "the first-ever female soccer varsity team in our province." The only way that would establish that was to play in the city meet: an event for all school sports teams in the city to compete for a spot in regional meets, then in national meets. However, the problem was that we had no other female teams to go against. We were not just the first female team, we were the only female team.
With only a glimmer of hope left, we almost felt like postponing this debut. Fortunately, a coach from another school gave the news to us that he started forming and training a female team, too. We met the girls and decided to test the waters by playing a friendly just days before the actual tournament. Mid-game, I completely paused and stood beside the goalkeeper. Before my eyes, I saw two teams that could soon change the course of the history of soccer here in my province. What started out as casual after-school window viewings slowly turned into actual inclusion in tournaments after tournaments. It felt surreal.
All that happened in 2015. Now, as of the year 2020, many female soccer players from my hometown have already played internationally and have also been scouted by top university varsities and teams. Ever since then, tournaments with more than ten female teams in the line-up happened more than once a year. Up until today, clubs are continually being formed. And who would ever forget about the soccer shoes? We have lots of them now.
The female soccer community in my province is full of empowered women who share the same passion for space, equality, opportunity, and greatness. Crediting the creation of this legacy to specific people is impossible. I believe that all these women had dreams of playing officially in this competitive sport and that my friends and I just helped carry these dreams. It was a united and collaborative effort by all of us.
Now that I have graduated from my team, I hold onto the hope that the next generation of young girls looking at the soccer field from their classroom windows would not see only boys playing, but also girls scoring.