Sports are not always an inclusive space. At every level, we see sports separated by gender, splitting up boys and girls for the same sports while deeming specific sports for each gender entirely. Over the decades, we’ve seen athletes cross the proverbial line and make waves, especially when it comes to female athletes having their history-making moments in traditionally male-dominated sports.
Years ago, Arizona native Becca Longo was one of the handful of female athletes who stepped foot into football, starting at the high school level before she was given her history-making opportunity – to become the first woman to earn a college football scholarship in the NCAA at the Division II level or higher.
Who is Becca Longo?
Rebecca “Becca” Longo attended high school in Chandler, Arizona, where she began playing football competitively and basketball for her school’s team after being inspired by her older brother’s football prowess. She got her start during her sophomore year and, in 2014, held the position of junior varsity kicker at Queen Creek High. Longo transferred schools, leaving her ineligible to play during her junior year at her new school Basha High due to transfer rules and an injured back. In her final year of high school, she scored big, converting 35 extra points with 38 attempts.
What was her NCAA career?
When she was only 18 years old, Longo made history at age 18 when she signed a letter of intent with Adams State University in Colorado in 2017, where she stayed for two seasons. This moment in her life made her the first woman to earn a college football scholarship at an NCAA school at the Division II level or higher. At the time she signed, she said she was “so emotional” and “grateful that somebody believed in me,” telling CNN, “I was completely shocked. Everybody who has it on video said my jaw dropped to the floor.”
“I contacted them during the season, and after the season, I got contacted back by them,” Longo told the Arizona Republic of Adams State University and her recruitment process. “The offensive coordinator (Josh Blankenship) told me he wanted me to come out for a visit. I went on my visit, and I absolutely fell in love.”
Unfortunately, she spent one year redshirting her second season with an ankle injury, never earning the chance to kick or play a down in a single game. After announcing on social media that she was leaving Adams State and looking to “pursue other opportunities,” in September 2019, she joined the Gila River Hawks. The team was part of a newly formed four-team Junior Athletic Conference; however, the conference disbanded after just one season.
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Women in college football
Historically, football has been a male-dominated sport. While there have been leagues solely for women, including the Women’s Football Alliance, at the high school, college, and professional levels, football hasn’t been a welcome place for female athletes. Nevertheless, there have been a handful of women who have participated in one way or another in these male-dominated leagues.
In 1970, Patricia Palinkas became the first woman to play professional football as a holder for her husband, Steve Palinkas, on the Orlando Panthers, a minor-league team. It would be decades later before another woman would step foot in the male-dominated league, with Palinkas followed by Abby Vestal in 2007 in the indoor American Professional Football League’s Kansas Koyotes, where she was the first woman to score points in a men’s pro game. Katie Hnida, the placekicker for the Fort Wayne FireHawks, played in three games of the Continental Indoor Football League season in 2010 before playing on several other teams, followed by Julie Harshbarger that same year and Jennifer Welter in 2014.
Stories of recent years followed Hnida, and the soccer player turned football kicker Sarah Fuller closely for their groundbreaking work at the collegiate level. Years before her other career-defining moments, Hnida became the first woman to score in an NCAA Division I-A football game. She was a placekicker for the University of New Mexico at the time when she kicked two points against Texas State University in August 2003. The year prior, she made history as the first woman to ever appear in a bowl game at the 2002 Las Vegas Bowl as well.
While there were women who came before and after Hnida, Fuller made a splash in the headlines in 2020 after she became the first woman to play in a Power Five–five athletes conferences that are the biggest in college football in the United States–football game, when the team played Missouri in November 2020, she took the opening kickoff in the second half for the team. The following month, she became the first woman to score in a Power Five football game after kicking an extra point against Tennessee.
“When this all started, I was capitalizing on the idea that girls can do anything you set your mind to, that anything is possible,” Fuller told the Tennessean. “But I’ve been through stuff, hard stuff, hard work. And that’s why it’s possible.”