But when push comes to shove, Ballard likes playing full-contact, by-the-book football.
“We always play tackle football at school,” Ballard said from the Litchfield High School practice field on Saturday morning.
And as Ballard took a break from a sunny morning spent running routes, covering wideouts and catching passes, she was glad to have a chance to play some good old-fashioned, pick-up tackle football.
“They let us play by the rules,” she said with a smile as she caught her breath in the bleachers.
Ballard, one of 13 fifth- and sixth-grade girls registered in Litchfield Community Education’s girls flag football program, got her wish Saturday. She and her fellow footballers set aside their flags to experience, if only for a few minutes, the game in its purest form.
The girls weren’t head-hunting or chop-blocking — just playing the kind of tackle football all kids play on the playground, with the added safety measure of playing under the watchful eyes of the Litchfield football staff and player volunteers.
As the community education brochure puts it, “Football isn’t just for boys!”
Litchfield head football coach Jim Jackman said that this first year of the girls flag football program has demonstrated the desire for such a program in town — and the desire of these girls to play some football.
“There’s a very athletic group of fifth- and sixth-grade girls who just want to enjoy the game,” Jackman said. “What kid doesn’t want to be running around outside?”
Amanda Marquardt, the youth program coordinator for Litchfield Community Ed, said that this group of sixth-grade girls — of which her daughter is one — in particular has been football-crazy for years.
“We have a lot of pretty competitive young ladies who enjoy playing recess with the boys,” Marquardt said. “They’ve been playing since the first grade.”
The girls league focuses on teaching team play, sportsmanship, passing, catching, kicking and some of the basic offensive and defensive strategies.
The program aims “to teach the girls, at a young age, the game and to understand it — to just kind of be familiar with it,” said Marquardt.
Getting in the game
As Callie Kellen watched her daughter Gracie Kellen, 11, from the sidelines, the Litchfield mother was glad that Community Ed. could give Gracie the opportunity to play the game she loves.
“She likes to play with her dad and everything,” Callie Kellen said. “It’s cool that they have enough interest in the community to do this.”
The league began on Sept. 6 and runs until Oct. 4; it’s held for an hour on Saturday mornings at the practice field.
For $28, the girls get five weeks of flag football, a T-shirt and a pass giving them free admission to all home varsity football games.
And these girls take full advantage of their game passes: they’re big enough Litchfield Dragons fans that they had already made posters for Friday’s homecoming game against New London-Spicer.
But unlike many of the fans in attendance, these girls will not just be passive observers; they’ve got a game to play too, albeit a pick-up one not under the glare of the bright lights but off on the darkened, dew-soaked practice fields.
Twins Kristin and Rachel Foley, 11, will both be there, putting to use the lessons and skills they’ve learned and honed during their Saturday morning girls league.
Rachel Foley has relished the opportunity to learn the game with her peers.
“The boys will just get too rough,” she said.
“It’s just girls,” Ballard added.