Yucaipa High School freshman football team member Helena (Lena) Murphy has heard the warnings. Girls are not big enough, strong enough, or fast enough to compete against boys. Murphy, 14 understands perfectly the potential hazards associated with tackle football.
Murphy isn’t the traditional girl on a team who exclusively kicks field goals and extra points; she plays defensive tackle against boys who outweigh her 5-foot-5, 145 pound stature. Her next goal is to make the junior varsity and then the varsity. “I’ve gotten used to playing the defensive line,” said Murphy. “Sometime I might change my position to defensive back or maybe running back.”
YHS freshman coach Thomas Boutchee says he would not allow Murphy to see live action if she was not good enough. Boutchee says, “I don’t see why she couldn’t eventually make the varsity. She’s a real football player.”
Head coach Justin Price said Randolph was on the first team he coached in 2009 at Yucaipa High but she was unable to play because of injury. Price added; “There is the possibility that she (Helena Murphy) may become a varsity football player.”
YHS offensive coordinator Blake Barbour pointed out that Murphy was a starter early in the season, then got hurt and is just starting to get back into the flow. Thunderbirds assistant varsity coach Butch Price noted the school must provide her a separate facility, sometimes having to wait for someone to open and close Murphy’s locker room. Butch Price said his main concern is the interpretation of federal law that in theory allows boys to play on girls teams and that the ruling gets murkier when it comes to transgender athletes.
“I had a girl who played defensive tackle in my program when I coached at Hesperia in 1984,” said Butch Price. “She played freshman and JV. Other girls come out and usually quit right away because they can’t take it. You can’t take away what she (Murphy) has done. She has stayed with it. Look at the plays she is making.”
Lena Murphy was in attendance when a female player on the Silverado varsity was knocked unconscious, loaded onto a stretcher and taken to the hospital by ambulance. Patricia Murphy did say her daughter suffered a concussion this year and was taken to urgent care.
Lena Murphy didn’t feel any pain from the concussion. If not for the trainer, she would have stayed in the game.
“If I get knocked down, I usually laugh and get back up.” She already realizes that the boys are more aggressive than when she played Yucaipa Junior All-American last year. She relies on endurance, technique and instinct to compensate.
Watching her at last week’s 42-6 win over Redlands, it appeared Murphy could usually get away from a block and quickly locate the ball carrier and lock onto his legs.
Patricia Murphy explained that her daughter has been treated fairly without problems.
“She’ll know when it’s time to give it up. Right now, it’s her passion. Everything is a challenge and she accepts it. I’m not going to stop her,” said Patricia Murphy who is also the only female on her job as an electrician.
“I think it’s awesome that she’s going for it,” said Yucaipa girls soccer coach Sarai Stamper. Likewise from current freshman teammate Rudy Castillo.
“We were on the same team last year, so I know how she can motivate a team even when she’s not playing. We’re family and she is part of it,” said Castillo. “Yes. She can become good enough to play varsity.”
Lena Murphy, who is also a Girl Scout, realizes that football is getting more serious and it won’t bother her if she doesn't make varsity “as long as I give it my best effort.” Some of her friends are telling her that she is becoming a celebrity on campus. However, Murphy doesn't seem at all fazed. “It’s part of my high school experience and I'm enjoying it.”