Jackson Public Schools Athletic Director Clinton Johnson says, “We’re happy Rebecca has the courage to get involved. Our programs are certainly open for anyone to participate and we wish her success.”

We read often about equality of the sexes. Cries for equal pay and equal rights come at a time when “throw like a girl” has become an unfair mocking of a less than best effort.

But football…that’s still a boy’s sport, right?

Tell that to 12 year-old Rebecca Templeton. The Broadmeadow 7th grader has become one of the first females to win a spot on the Chastain Middle School football team.

Proving she can hang with the boys, the shy defensive lineman will don shoulder pads for the Warriors’ first game tonight against Northwest.

Rebecca wears the number 54 — her dad’s from his early days at East Detroit High School in Michigan — and says her time on the team thus far has been anything but easy.

“They thought I’d quit after the first week,” she says of her fellow players, “all because I’m a girl.” Her mother, Angie Templeton, says she remembers back to her own school days where the girl on the team, did quit. “They didn’t want (my classmate) there,” Angie recalls. “But Rebecca has the strength and perseverance. If she wants to do it, she will.”

At first, Rebecca’s teammates didn’t treat her the same. “They wouldn’t hit her hard,” Angie says. “But I finally told him, ‘You’ve got to lay her out.’ The other teams might not be so nice, and she needs to learn. ‘Put her on the ground,’ I told them, if she needs to be.”

With two brothers in the house (15 year-old Austin Charboneau is in 8th grade and plays on the same team), Rebecca is used to rough and tumble. And her linebacker position comes naturally. “I like to hit people,” she laughs. But she doesn’t like being hit. “And that’s the whole point,” mom Angie asks, “to hit them before they hit you, right?”

Rebecca understands her underdog predicament. So much so, she naturally has empathy for her teammates who fall behind. “When they’re out running laps, she is at the end, running laps with the ones having a hard time,” Angie says. “I couldn’t be more proud. She has amazed me.”

Standing on Chastain’s home field — Newell Field — for an interview, Rebecca notes the role women are playing in football. “I was watching TV and saw (Sarah Thomas from Brandon), the first official female NFL referee,” she says. “For anyone who says we shouldn’t be here, I say, ‘Give us a chance.’ It’s going to be hard, but if you really want to be a part of the sport, you have to put everything into it.”

Update: JPS Athletic Director Clinton Johnson called today to say, after a bit of research, Templeton is not the first. “We searched some records and found that Carmen Rae Musgrove, daughter of Mississippi Governor Ronnie Musgrove, was the first-ever female to play football at Chastain, somewhere between 1999 and 2001. She was a kicker and played on the defensive line.”