Girls on the Gridiron - Maverick Kicker Melanie Rice
Author, politician and motivational speaker Les Brown once said, “Life has no limitations, except the ones you make.” It is safe to assume Melanie Rice, 16, of Fort Smith holds similar beliefs.
A junior at Southside High School, Melanie is a kicker for the Mavericks football team, the only girl playing this year at the high school level in Fort Smith. While becoming a football player is a relatively new development in her life, Melanie played football for fun with friends in elementary school and had been interested in being a kicker since her early junior high days.
“I had always wanted to kick for a team, but never brought it up in junior high,” she said.
Everything changed when Melanie’s assistant soccer coach Steven Thessing had her kick a football one day at soccer practice. Thessing also is the defensive coordinator for the Southside football team.
“We were looking for a new kicker because some of our guys had graduated. I knew Melanie had a strong leg and that she’s outgoing, so I thought of her,” Thessing recalled. “She got out there and went for it.”
Over the summer, Melanie received a call about joining the football team. Opportunity knocked – and she answered.
“She’s a trooper and has stayed with it. She’s done really well with the transition from kicking a soccer ball to a football,” Thessing said.
Melanie said her teammates are supportive, respectful and welcoming. In fact, Melanie said, her favorite thing about her new sport is the new friendships. She has received similar support from the student body as a whole.
This is surely encouraging to those coming up in the ranks. There are three female football players at the junior high level in Fort Smith.
When asked about the challenges in this new season, Melanie said, at first, she wondered what others were thinking about her and how she would be received. She used that pressure as her motivation.
Drive and determination seem to be a theme in Melanie’s life. She not only plays soccer and football, but basketball, as well. This has presented yet another obstacle.
“Probably the biggest challenge is actually getting to practice because of my other sports obligations,” she said. Right now, she practices with the football team once a week and right before games. There are two senior kickers ahead of her, but she continues to work hard because she knows her time is coming and she wants to be ready.
This is exactly the attitude Thessing recognized and admires in Melanie. “She’s a great girl. I am so impressed with how she’s handled herself,” he said.
Thessing isn’t the only one. Dr. Darren McKinney, Fort Smith Public Schools athletic director, is proud of what Melanie and the other young women in the district are bringing to these programs.
“I think this is a great opportunity for the girls. They have accepted the challenge of playing football and are succeeding. It speaks volumes to their drive, commitment, hard work and determination,” McKinney said.
Melanie said she hopes to be an inspiration, sending a positive message that perceived limitations shouldn’t hold people back.
“Just because it’s a male-dominated sport doesn’t mean a female can’t be a part of it. It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s worth it,” she said. “I want kids to see that they can work hard and do what they put their minds to.”
– Kristin Riggs
This article appears in the October 2017 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.