The referee’s whistle shrills from down on the field to up in the stands, where a smattering of fans are sitting, mostly parents. It’s definitely hot cocoa, sweatshirt and blanket weather.
“Longhorns are red hot *clap clap*
Longhorns are red hot *clap clap*
Longhorns are R-E-D Red, H-O-T Hot, Red Hot, Red Hot . . .”
The cheerleaders’ chant fades as their shivering takes over and they run to put their heavy jackets back on over their uniforms.
The cloud-streaked sky begins to turn dark and the lights on the field flicker on as the fourth quarter clock begins to tick down. The swift breeze has changed directions now, coming up from the south and swirling around through the wooden stands where the fans have settled back into their seats after stretching.
As the play begins, helmets smack together at the line of scrimmage, and bodies, both tiny and large, are shoved to the left and to the right. The defense is not enough, though, for the home team DeKalb Tigers; forty-five seconds into the final quarter, the South Nodaway junior high football team scores another touchdown against them, putting the Longhorns up 18-6.
On the ensuing kick-off, No. 33 gets a good, solid tackle on the ball carrier.
“Way to go, Scout,” someone yells from the Longhorn section of fans.
Several more minutes pass, and as the clock begins to wind down toward the end of the game, No. 33 still isn’t giving up, even though it looks as though the Maroon and Black have it in the bag.
“Nice work, Scout,” Longhorn Head Coach Aaron Murphy hollers from the sideline. “Keep it up!”
Two plays later, she gets another tackle.
She is Scout Miller, the 13-year-old eighth grader who is playing in her first year of football for the eight-man junior high team.
After the last tackle, a teammate slaps her shoulder pads in encouragement and her maroon jersey, offset by the black in her helmet, pants, socks and cleats, bobs up and down.
Still playing strong, she lines up in the defensive tackle position, pushes past her opponent on the line and heads straight for the running back carrying the ball. Like a rag doll, she throws him to the ground behind the line of scrimmage, a tackle for a loss of yards.
Taking her own path
On the outside, Scout seems like a typical teenager. The bright-eyed, perpetually-smiling red head has what South Nodaway Elementary Principal Darbi Bauman calls an infectious personality, one who loves to joke around and appreciates a good practical joke.
She is active at school with basketball, track, FCA and FBLA and she enjoys watching TV, especially America’s Best Dance Crew on MTV, reading, art and going fishing. She wants to go to Northwest after she graduates high school and eventually become a teacher, like her favorite, Mrs. Bauman.
And while she seems pretty conventional on the outside, it comes as no surprise to the people who know her, that Scout made an unconventional decision when she chose to play football.
“Scout is the type of student that walks her own path,” Bauman said. “She is not afraid to think outside of the box and that is one quality that makes her so special.”
Most people have been supportive of her decision, including her friends and family, although she said, “my sister, Shea, thought I’d only last a week.”
She obviously proved her sister wrong. And probably a few others along the way.
Learning and progressing
Scout is the daughter of Glenn and Cindy Miller, Barnard, and Annie Thogerson, Arizona, and has seven siblings, mostly older and none who play football. But that didn’t stop her from pursuing her passion.
“I just love football. I wanted to play last year, but my dad was scared I would get hurt,” she said. So when it was time to sign up this year, Scout persisted and was allowed to play.
“I knew the general idea of the game from playing with friends and watching the high school team play,” she said, but also confessed she had a lot to learn about positions and team plays.
A quick learner, Scout’s lack of experience and knowledge didn’t hinder her.
“Scout constantly progressed throughout the season,” Murphy said. “Whenever I would give instruction, she seemed to retain the information quickly and was able to put it into action. The biggest progress she made was on her tackling.”
She wasn’t just improving, she was enjoying it, too, and her practice was paying off. During that game against DeKalb, the final one of the season, Scout recorded six tackles, two of which resulted in a loss of yardage.
Her hard work started long before the season began, though, during summer weightlifting.
“During our summer workouts, Scout worked extremely hard, which I believe pushed the boys to try harder,” Murphy said. “She did anything asked of her to the best of her ability.”
While being a girl on a boys football team may present itself with some awkward situations, her coaches said the relationships she had with her teammates were very normal.
“Her teammates never hesitated to accept her as a teammate; she was a great contributor and an amazing asset to our team,” Murphy said, who has known Scout and her family for five years. “She is a motivator to the rest of the team, always encouraging and pushing them to do their best.”
As she was supporting her teammates, those around her at school were cheering her on just the same.
“I have never seen or heard any negative comments from anyone about her playing football,” Nick Wray, assistant coach and school counselor, said. “People just want her to play well. They have really supported her decision and rooted for her throughout the season.”
The loudest cheers came on the first game of the year, a 28-8 win against West Nodaway, on a play Scout calls her favorite of the whole season.
“I made a touchdown,” she said. “We were 10 yards away from the goal line and I ran through the four hole and scored.”
The touchdown was one of the best moments of the season, Wray said.
“She just ran into the pile of West Nodaway defenders and carried three of them into the end zone for a touchdown,” he said. “It was one of those moments that gives you goose bumps.”
The season may have been a disappointment for some, with a 2-3 record. But even with the losses, Scout said it was a great experience for her.
“As long as we do our best, it doesn’t matter,” she said.
And as for next year, she is unsure if she will play again. “I want to, but I don’t know,” she said hesitantly, knowing her opponents will most likely be a lot bigger than her.
“It was a true pleasure to have her on the team this year,” Murphy said. “And it was inspiring to see her perform on the field and receive so much success.”
The final seconds
As the horn blared, sounding the end of that game against DeKalb, the South Nodaway fans once again rose to their feet, clapped their hands and cheered for their Longhorns.
In perhaps the last game of her short career, Scout Miller, with her teammates by her side, ran off the field smiling and laughing.
For the 13-year-old, it doesn’t get much better than playing the game she so passionately loves.