By John DeCoste
Football is seen as a male sport and there are few opportunities for female players locally.
There is a women’s league in Halifax, but, for girls in Kings County who love football, the only option is playing with the boys. Two local high school girls, Shannon Cornelius and Courtney Bell, are doing just that and neither plans to stop anytime soon.
Fun, family affair
Cornelius, a Grade 11 student at Central Kings, is playing her second year with the Gators and she played a year for the Valley Bulldogs before that.
Football is a family affair in her Cambridge home - her father, Chuck, is a coach; her brother, Nigel, plays for the Bulldogs, and her mom, Donna, is part of the CK team’s auxiliary - so Shannon’s sport choice shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
“My dad loves football,” she said. Three years ago, “he was coaching with the bantam Bulldogs. It looked like fun, and I wanted to be part of it.
“I asked dad if I could play, and he asked (Coach) Reg (Ogilvie.) He said it was okay, and I registered. I found out it was fun, and I’ve played ever since.
“I like the fact it’s a team sport,” Shannon said. “You get to know your teammates, get close as a team and everyone has a job to do - everybody has a role.”
After graduating from minor football, she made the high school team in Grade 10. She was on the offensive line with the Bulldogs, but shifted to defensive back for the Gators.
“It was a change, and I changed positions, but it was still football,” she said. “Everything I liked about it was still there.”
Being the only girl on the team hasn’t been much of an issue, Cornelius said, “for the most part, I’m one of the team and the guys treat me like one of the team.
“While it would be nice to have other girls around, being the only girl has its advantages, too. It’s a trade-off.”
She plans to play for the Gators next year in Grade 12 and, after that, she may try out for the women’s league in Halifax. Cornelius also throws discus and shot put in the track and field season, but, for now, is concentrating on “having lots of fun” playing football.
When the West Kings Wolverines began their first year of high school football this year, their roster included Courtney Bell wearing number 1, which, she quips, “was the smallest jersey.”
The Kingston teenager’s football career began last year when she played for the Valley Bulldogs.
“A lot of my friends were in it,” she says. “They were always at football, so I thought I’d join up, too.
“I always loved watching football growing up, but I didn’t think I’d ever be allowed to play,” Bell said.
“I like the contact. I like the practices and the challenge of learning different plays. I’ve been welcomed by the rest of the team. It’s been really fun so far, really awesome.”
Bell said one of her role models is her grandfather, Harold Boone.
“He was always into sports and we used to watch football together growing up,” Bell said, which is where she developed her love for the sport.
She also gets great support from her parents, Tom Bell and Caroline Winters, she added.
“I’m not sure my dad really wanted me to play, but at the same time, he’s always taught me to not let my gender limit me,” Bell said.
“(My mom) drives me to all my practices and games, and is a great support.”
Courtney will have two years of football eligibility left after this year and is also interested in trying out for the Halifax league after high school.
“I plan to keep playing as long as I can. It’s been amazing so far.”
Bell also plays hockey for West Kings and sprained her thumb playing hockey benched her for the football game against Central Kings Oct. 13, but she hoped to be back on the field for the Oct. 20 game against Horton.