The Detroit Public School League fall season for girls’ athletics won’t begin until Sept. 9, but Pershing High’s Monique Howard has already distinguished herself as the girls’ first PSL Proud Strong Learner of the Week for 2011-12.
Howard, 16, is the barrier-breaking starting right tackle who, at 6-0, 190 pounds, more than held her own against the boys in Pershing’s 18-12 overtime victory against Renaissance last Friday to open the high school football season.
“Just because girls are built differently, it doesn’t mean that we can’t do the same things as boys,’’ said Howard, a senior with a 3.2 grade point average. “My teammates don’t look at me as a girl. They look at me as one of the guys. I don’t act differently. I fit in like one of them.”
While there have been a few other girls who’ve played PSL football through the years, Howard, a power forward-center for Pershing’s state-ranked girls’ basketball team, might be the first girl who played such a prominent role at a position that requires muscle and strength.
“She played well,’’ said Doughboys’ Coach Charles Spann “For the first time out, I’d grade her at 85 (per cent). She had no fear of any one and was treacherous the whole game.”
Spann admits he didn’t take Howard’s pursuit of football seriously when she first approached him about playing.
“I thought she was joking,” he said. “But she was able to do all the workouts and she never had any complaints. It’s obvious she has a strong desire to play the game. In all my years, I’ve never had one to convince me that this was the thing to do. But we’re going to try to help her get better each game because her heart is in it.”
Spann insists that Howard won’t get any special treatment because of her gender.
“We coach athletes and she’s one of our athletes,” he said. “The only thing different for her is the dressing room.”
Howard says her favorite school subject is Math. She hopes to earn a college scholarship to play basketball and earn a degree. She plans to major in criminal justice and pursue a career as a detective.
As an interested spectator at last Friday’s game, Renaissance girls’ basketball coach Diane Jones marveled at Howard’s fearlessness and toughness on the field and could only imagine the force she’ll be this winter. “She’s going to be a beast on the basketball court,” Jones said.
Howard said Pershing High’s girls’ basketball coach Shawn Hill fully supports her desire to play football. “He said football would help my basketball,’’ she said. “My footwork is better. Usually, I get in a rush when I’m under the basket but now I’m under control.”
Hill was also correct in telling Howard that playing football would bring her a lot of publicity. In a matter of a week, the media buzz turned into a media blitz as Howard was featured in front-page stories in the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News and on a live segment on WDIV TV’s Local 4 News.
“I didn’t think it would be anything like this,’’ Howard said of the onslaught of publicity. “But I’m enjoying it and my teammates are, too. They say I’m making them famous.”
The PSL’s Proud Strong Learner of the Week Award, representative of the league’s top boys’ and girls’ athletic performers as nominated by their coaches, is sponsored by McDonald’s owner-operators of Detroit.