There’s not much different about Shaina Clorfeine, other than the bright green cleats.
Otherwise, the kicker blends in, standing on the sidelines next to her La Canada High football teammates. She might be a little smaller. A spool of hair flows from the back of her helmet. But next to other players, whose feet are encased in muted greys and blacks, her neon kicks are what stand out.
Then she takes off her headgear, making it apparent that she is the only girl on this football team, and she suddenly stands out for a different reason.
“Last week against Franklin, I took off my helmet, and then a group of boys from the other team … came up to me and they were like, ‘Do you play football?’ Clorfeine said. “I was like, ‘Yeah,’ and they were like, ‘What do you do,’ and I was like, ‘I kick.’ They were like, ‘Yo, mad respect.’”
There’s a growing number of female high school kickers in Southern California, each with their own taking-off-their-helmet stories. Jordan Galvin and Aiyana DeGiacomo of Westminster can tell you about the looks of shock they’ve received from other teams during warm-ups. Leilani Armenta of Ventura St. Bonaventure can tell you about the comments she’s heard from the stands as she lines up for an extra-point try.
Little by little, an increasing number of girls in the area are breaking through invisible barriers of perhaps the most traditionally male-dominated sport. In assuming key roles kicking for their school’s football team, they’re blazing trails for the young women behind them. As they receive more and more opportunities, perhaps they’ll change perception enough that one day, the only eye-popping thing about Clorfeine trotting out onto La Canada’s field will be her bright green cleats.
“Some people have brought up to me that us doing this, girls in middle school or freshman girls can see us and they can change history,” DeGiacomo said.
In the 2014-15 academic year, there were 236 girls who participated in 11-player high school football in California. That number increased steadily every season to 593 in 2018-19, the most recent year data is available.
The growth is apparent in the Southern California football landscape. In addition to Clorfeine, Armenta, Galvin and DeGiacomo, Kayla Ibrahim, Morgan Zimmerman and Victoria Kenworthy rotate kicking duties for Arcadia, and senior Jaemi Toledo is a perfect 11 for 11 on PATs for Oxnard.
The path for all leads from a background in soccer, with a desire for a new experience. Knowing she wouldn’t be able to play soccer at St. Bonaventure while playing year-round club with Real So Cal, Armenta wanted to maximize her time in high school by playing a new sport. Galvin and DeGiacomo — longtime stars on Westminster’s soccer team — had similar reasons, wanting to make the most of their senior year after a year lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Quickly, they found football to be a new environment altogether. Not only was conditioning more rigorous, all realized a different mentality was required to step on a football field.
“With soccer, you can go in and you can miss [a kick], and you can get it on the next one,” Galvin said. “But with football, everything’s in the second — you can’t redo it.”
There was a newfound pressure. And not the physical weight of pads.
“I definitely think I had to earn respect as a kicker,” Armenta said. “Kicker’s one of the hardest positions on the field, because you get pressure every time you do something.”
There was another plainly obvious reason she felt she had to earn that respect.
“Being a female — physically, it’s tough, but mentally, it’s a whole different game when you’re out there,” Armenta said. “A bunch of guys, a bunch of guy coaches — it’s definitely a different mental state you have to be in to play on the field as a woman.”
At this point in her high school career, Armenta has proved she can do just about everything. She can execute kickoffs and field goals, breaking the county record for PATs in a game (10) for a woman earlier this season.
With that, she feels, she’s finally earned her spot on the roster. It took years of adjustment as the first female player in St. Bonaventure’s history to get to that point.
“You have to be stronger, you have to be able to work, and you can’t break down easily because there’s going to be comments from left and right,” she said.
She’s heard the chirping, comments questioning her ability to kick far enough. Her parents have overheard comments from the stands.
“It does stick with me,” Armenta said of the comments, “but for me, I’ve proven so much on the field. It’s not like the person saying it is kicking the ball. It’s not like a male is kicking the ball. I’m doing it for myself.”
It hasn’t all been sideways glances and snide remarks, though. Armenta said special teams coach Thomas Merickel is “kind of the reason why [she thrives],” as her support system, and her team has her back wholeheartedly.
Clorfeine, meanwhile, said she’s always felt welcome into La Canada’s team dynamic. She’s perfectly comfortable hanging out in the locker room with the boys, cracking her fair share of jokes, head coach Dave Avramovich said.
“She’s usually next to me in the locker room, and whenever I take down my girdle or my pants, I say, ‘Shaina, look away,’” La Canada kicker Royce Xiao said with a chuckle.
The environments of high school football teams are all different. Clorfeine, Armenta, Galvin and DeGiacomo have each had unique experiences. Yet all are unequivocally glad they’ve seized the opportunity to kick.
Along the way, they’re inspiring different generations. Avramovich said his young daughters are well aware of Clorfeine’s accomplishments, while Armenta has had moms and “hardcore football dads” come up to her to express their pride in her success.
“I think it’s really breaking barriers, not only in the community but especially for St. Bonaventure,” Armenta said.
Galvin and DeGiacomo just wanted to have some fun their senior year, never expecting the hoopla they’d receive for kicking on the football team. But after noting increased attention toward Westminster’s program and surrounding districts, they’ve realized their importance.
“Girls who want to kick but who are too scared to say something, they should go kick,” Galvin said. “It’s a really great experience. Nobody should miss out because of fear.”
Clorfeine, meanwhile, said establishing herself on a team of boys gave her the confidence to run for and earn the position of La Canada’s Associated Student Body secretary. In August, she wrote an opinion piece for La Canada’s independent student newspaper, The Outspoken Oppa, on her advice to girls trying out for their high school football teams.
“I hope people see what an amazing story I’ve had,” Clorfeine said, “and other girls have had.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.