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Blazing her own trail

Forest Grove senior Elizabeth Dahlke has fond memories of her three years playing for the Vikings' football team


The scene took place three years ago.

It was the first game of the Forest Grove junior varsity football season. An offensive/defensive lineman for the Vikings was on the gridiron for the first time ever.

As the game progressed, the referee blew the whistle. As Forest Grove’s running back stood on the field, he was pushed by an opponent.

Seeing a teammate being shoved, the Forest Grove lineman reacted, running toward the scuffle and pushing the opposing player as hard as possible.

“What was that for?” the opposing player shouted.

“The whistle blew,” the Viking player shouted back.

“Dude, you sound like a girl,” the opponent said.

“I am one,” she shot back.

The opposing player’s eyes got very big as he looked through the Viking player’s facemask. Then, without another word, he walked away.

The girl was Elizabeth Dahlke. That moment was her favorite over a three-year football career at Forest Grove that ended this fall.

“That was the best moment because it was the first thing I remembered,” Dahlke says.

During the summer after her freshman year at Forest Grove, Dahlke was sitting with her father, listening to him talk about football.

“He talked about how it changed him and how he started getting more confidence in himself,” Dahlke says.

The moment inspired Dahlke, who also throws the shot put and discus for the Forest Grove track team.

”As a girl, I feel that we need to be more confident in ourselves,” Dahlke says. “I figured, ‘What they hey, I’ll go try it.’”

Dahlke went out for the junior varsity football team her sophomore year. Her mother Jolene thought that trying to play football was just a phase that her daughter would soon grow out of.

“I didn’t think it was going to last,” Jolene Dahlke says. “I thought it was one of those things that she was going to try and prove to the boys. I didn’t expect it to last.

“Now it’s three years later. I was completely surprised and in awe and it’s great.”

What Jolene Dahlke did not count on was the passion that the game of football would inspire in her daughter.

“I just fell in love with it, the team support and getting aggression out in a positive way,” Elizabeth Dahlke says. “It was just amazing.”

Of course even in the year 2012, gender stereotypes still exist. When Dahlke first went out for the team, she says that she received some backlash from other girls at the school.

“There was one girl who had a boyfriend on the football team,” Dahlke says. “She said that the reason I tried out was to get a boyfriend. Well, I’m not very into that right now. I’m more into school and academics.”

Jolene Dahlke says that her daughter has a thick skin that helped her survive on the football team.

“Liz lets a lot of things go,” Dahlke says. “Throughout her school years, she’s been bullied a lot, or teased a lot, and a lot of things she has let go. Football was kind of a way for her to get out there and release some energy and aggression and a way to work out and a way to build self-confidence.”

Elizabeth Dahlke says that the positives from playing football have far outweighed the negatives.

“It’s been great,” she says. “There has been some times when it hasn’t been. I would get lonely because I was the only girl. But there were always teammates there that would back me up. They would sense that I wouldn’t have confidence in myself and they would be right there to say, ‘Hey, you’ve got that block.’

“There has been negative things said, but I just have to look at the positives. The positive overtakes the negative.”

During the season, Dahlke would have to change in the girls locker room. She never minded that, though.

“I would change in the girls locker room before the game, before the other team would come into the locker room,” Dahlke says. “Then I would sit in the boys locker room on a chair and listen to my music and try to get focused. Once it was team meetings, they’d make sure all the guys were dressed and pull me in.

“I understood it. Guys need to be dressed in the guys locker room. I totally understood it.”

Dahlke was happy when her teammates went a little out of their way so that she did not have to go too far out of her way.

“They had all the guys dress in their pants before we got on the bus if it was an away game so I wouldn’t feel left out since I would wear mine, because I wouldn’t have access to the away-game locker room,” Dahlke says.

Dahlke, at 5-foot-8 and 200 pounds, played both offensive and defensive line for two years on the Vikings’ junior varsity team, and this season for the varsity. She liked defense more than offense.

“I prefer defense,” Dahlke says. “It is more straightforward. There weren’t all these calls you had to remember. It is basically get the guy with the ball. I just liked that.”

Dahlke says that she is happy with the amount of playing time she has gotten for the Vikings.

“I played quite a lot for my standards,” she says. “I got into a lot of games. As long as I got to be on the sideline at least to cheer on my team, that was a plus for me. To play was a bonus.”

Dahlke did get one concussion during her first year in football. It scared her mother, but Jolene Dahlke says that the family handled it and supported Elizabeth when she wanted to continue playing.

“We just handled it, went through it and from then on, she took the beatings just like the boys,” Jolene Dahlke says. “She would come home and she looked like she’d been battered. But, she just went with it. I worried. But, it’s the game you play.”

Playing football has made Dahlke proud of herself and given her an experience that she would have never gotten had she not stepped out onto the gridiron.

“I’m proud of myself,” Dahlke says. “I’m proud of the guys who stuck with me. I remember coming off the field with a smile because you never know when it’s your last chance to play due to injury or something. I took every play as if it was my last. I had a blast. Those guys who have played on a team know what it’s like and the feeling of having that support no matter what, it just never leaves you.”

It is not her favorite moment from her time as a prep football player, but Dahlke can still see the stunned looks she got when she took off her helmet after a game and other girls in the bleachers saw her.

“They would be stunned and it would make me happy because they realized it could actually happen,” she says.

Dahlke says that she has gotten an offer to try out for the River City Raiders, a semi-professional women’s football team. She is hoping that she will be able to make the squad. Even if she does not, Dahlke knows that football will always be a part of her life.

“If that doesn’t work, I’ll still be going to the games, I’ll still be rooting for my team,” Dahlke says. “If I look down the future, football is always going to be there.”




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