Yake tackles gender norms

Ada+Yake+plays+in+the+Oct.+8+game+against+the+Oregon+City+Pioneers.+Yake+has+been+playing+football+since+she+was+10.

Courtesy of Ralph Greene

Ada Yake plays in the Oct. 8 game against the Oregon City Pioneers. Yake has been playing football since she was 10.

By Mia Dodson, Tigard High School

     The whistle blew and the crowd was screaming as number 56 made her way onto the football field, ready to block, tackle, and pave the way for future female football players. 

     Junior Ada Yake had a range of emotions going through her mind when she stepped on the field.

“I don’t get too nervous once I’m actually on the field,” she said. “Once I’m there I’m more focused on what I’m doing. And I’m excited, of course.”

     This outside linebacker and left guard’s interest in football was first sparked when she was merely 10 years old, and she pursued her dream the next year in fifth grade.

     “At first [my parents] wanted me to play flag football,” Yake recollected. “But I eventually persuaded them to let me play tackle.”

     “[We] were concerned that she wouldn’t be able to play as far as she would want to go,” Yake’s mother Shannon said. “But that proved not to be an issue.”

     “With every stumble, she will get back up, learn, and go again,” she added. “The success she has is a testimony of her dedication and extreme hard work.”

     Yake joined the Tigard Youth Football tackle program in about 2015, and quickly learned how football is a huge commitment and requires a lot of time and practice.

     “I dedicate about 19 hours a week to football if you include games,” she said. Football fills her schedule and can leave her with limited time for other commitments like school and her personal life.

     “It can be stressful sometimes, but usually it’s not too bad balancing everything,” Yake commented. “I just have to have good time management.”

     She described what she and her teammates do to prepare for games.

     “Before games, we visualize what you want to happen and that usually gets me pumped up and ready for the game,” Yake said. “I just visualize myself making a play, tackle, or block, and it really helps.”

Although her season was cut short due to injury, she made sure to dedicate herself to this sport despite any roadblocks in her way.

     “I had a concussion for three weeks, and right when I got back from it, I broke my hand. I couldn’t play in that condition, so I couldn’t play in the playoff game, which made me really sad,” she said. “Because it was my first varsity playoff game.” 

     “She had some injuries… but she was there every day, doing what she was asked to do, and just trying to make the best of it,” varsity football coach John Kemper added. 

     “With her mindset and her playing football all the way through youth, she’s never wanted any special treatment,” he said. “Someone wants or expects to be treated differently because they’re being a female playing in a predominantly male sport. There’s been nothing like that with her.” 

     “The coaching staff expects the same from her as they do from the boys,” Shannon said. “Her teammates were and have always treated her as they should, a teammate.”

     Junior and fellow teammate Reese Hare chimed in on Yake’s involvement with the team.

     “[There’s] no obstacles. We’ve just stayed together as a team, we just accept her, and she accepts us,” he explained. “We don’t see anything as ‘oh, she’s a girl on our team; it’s different.’ No, we just accept it.”

   Being a female tackle football player makes Yake part of a minority. According to deadspin.com, there are no girl’s tackle football teams in America. 

     Yake came through the ranks in the Tigard Youth Football League where she was the only girl playing tackle.

     “Data from 2019 [suggests that] we had zero players registered as female in any [previous] years in our tackle program,” Tigard Youth Football president Jason Faler said. 

     “We are averaging approximately three per year in our flag program,” he continued. “Our flag program, although potentially expanding… is open to K-4th grade students.” 

     Hare explained how having a girl on the team was normalized at Tigard because she had been on it for so long.

     “When I first saw her playing, I didn’t really have a reaction,” he said. “Because I was so young, I didn’t mind it.” 

     Because Yake grew up playing with the rest of the team, she was viewed as one of the fellow teammates.

     Being a female in a male-dominated sport can bring up major controversies, but none were too big for Yake to overcome. In fact, she remained generally unaffected by what others said.

     “I don’t really care if people don’t like me playing,” she said. “Because [my playing] doesn’t affect them at all.” This hasn’t stopped her from achieving big things.

     Her sophomore year, Yake was a JV team captain and swung up to varsity. This year she was on varsity full-time.

     “I’ve been very lucky to have a group of guys and coaches as good as these,” she said. 

     This trailblazer expressed how grateful she is for the people who’ve made it possible.

     “My biggest supporters are definitely my mom and my dad,” Yake admitted. “My dad has always pushed me and worked with me to make me the best player I could be. And my mom has never doubted me playing football and has always supported me.”

     “We have always told her and her siblings that there aren’t limits to their goals,” Shannon Yake said. “We will do whatever we can do to support her to achieve them.” 

     Freshman Penelope Yake, her sister, was glad that Ada plays a sport that she loves.

     “[She] is very strong and has a lot of faith in herself,” Penelope said. “She is confident in what she does which inspires me to do the same.” Ada had inspirations of her own.

     “My biggest inspiration is Toni Harris,” she said, referring to the first girl to get a college football scholarship as a skilled player. “[She] showed me that it wasn’t impossible to be a woman playing college football.” Harris currently plays for the Central Methodist University Eagles.

     Despite being an anomaly, Ada deeply appreciates her coaches and teammates.

     “Through all my years playing I’ve felt like I’ve always been treated equal to everyone else and have been given the same opportunities,” she said. 

     “She never wants any special treatment,” Kemper said. “She’s a hard worker and an awesome person.”

     Being a female in a male-dominated sport is a tough challenge, and Yake stepped up.

     “I think she’s proven that there are no limits on who can play,” Hare stated. “You’ve just got to go out there and fight through whatever you have to fight through.”

     Yake shared some words of encouragement for anyone in a situation similar to hers.

    “I would tell any girl who wants to play a male-dominated sport that if you put in as much work or even more than everyone else, then you can be successful in anything,” she encouraged. 

     Yake is planning to pave the way for future female football players for years to come.

This story was originally published on on January 13, 2022.