Youth Football Athlete Charlotte Kirby (Photo courtesy of the Kirby family)
Charlotte Kirby is cutting her teeth with the Lady Gators locally, while a varsity opportunity at Gloucester HS is on the horizon
by Jim McGrath, recruit757
At first glance, Charlotte Kirby comes across as a typical 12-year-old girl. At 5-foot-1 and a shade over 100 pounds, she is relatively slight in build, but possesses a limitless reserve of energy that has helped her develop a love for sports and the impetus to participate.
The petite pre-teen, a sixth grader at Page Middle School in Gloucester, has become quite an athlete. She plays small forward for the Page girls’ basketball team, and used to be a backstroker for the summer swim team when her family lived in Bridgeport, West Virginia. She’s also trying to find a local lacrosse team to join as a middle fielder.
But it was back in Bridgeport where Kirby found her true calling. After playing flag football for three years, she decided that pulling flags from a belt wrapped around someone’s waist was fun, but not exhilarating enough for her athletic want.
Football could be more interesting, she figured, if perhaps she could put on pads and strap on a helmet.
Kirby joined the local youth boys’ football team in Bridgeport. The Bridgeport coaches would let Charlotte play, but just enough to stave off the questions about why she spent so much time on the bench.
“They’d give her five or six plays a game,” said mother Belynda. “But it didn’t seem to matter what she did on the field. Once, on third and four, she was playing defensive end, and tackled a kid in the backfield. On the next play, fourth and nine, she tackled the runner before he could make the first down. And then the coaches took her out, and she didn’t play again that day.”
Upon arrival at their new Virginia home, Belynda and husband Scott started scouring the Middle Peninsula landscape for football opportunities. They found the first with the 12-U Gloucester Outlaws. It was a blessing in disguise, it seemed, until Charlotte and Mom arrived at the first practice, only to be reacquainted with the first comment that coaches usually make when seeing Charlotte on a football field for the first time.
“Is she a kicker?”
Charlotte will aim to prove the Gloucester coaches wrong next season, but in the meantime, she has found a unique way to prepare.
It all started with a phone call, from Belynda to Katisha Simpkins, owner of the Hampton Roads Lady Gators, a semi-pro team based out of Newport News, and 2018 champion of the United States Women’s Football League (USWFL).
Simpkins had played against the D.C. Divas and Boston Renegades of the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) before launching her own team three years ago. With the WFA, she saw the development of women’s football first hand as she played with and against players such as Katie Sowers, who now coaches with the San Francisco 49ers, and recently became the first female coach to be involved
with a Super Bowl team. Jennifer King, recently hired by as a coaching intern by the Washington Redskins, was a teammate of Simpkins with the Divas.
Simpkins had already invited one high school player (Elizabeth Halfhill of King and Queen High) to compete with the Gators last year, but even she was surprised when Belynda and Charlotte showed up for their first practice.
“I was blown away,” said Simpkins. “I had no idea about her age, but she’s a gem. We love having her out here.”
The feeling is mutual.
“There’s no development team for women, especially at this age,” said Belynda. “We were hoping that she could get some conditioning, but we had no idea she’d be part of the team.”
There are some caveats. A player must be 15 years of age to compete in games with the USWFL, but Charlotte gets to participate in scrimmages and 7-on-7 competitions. And she fully intends to join the team upon reaching the required age. Preparing ahead, Gator head coach Michael Smith has been working with Charlotte as a running back and wide receiver.
Smith is at no loss for words when talking about his youngest player.
“Most young adults would be intimidated, but not Charlotte. She embraces opportunity and adversity and falls right in. She does not want special treatment because of age or size. She has the “it” factor with her, and each week she gets better and better. I guarantee you she will be one of the top women’s players around.”
Charlotte’s drive transcends to her off-the-field activities. She is an A-Honor Roll student at Page, and is taking eighth grade classes in spite of her sixth grade status.
But it’s her heart for giving back to the community that adds a special dimension to this twelve-year-old.
In Bridgeport, Charlotte started the Charlotte Toy Drive, at the age of four. Each December, she supplied toys to 150 West Virginia families who lacked the financial needs to purchase them. During one holiday season, she collected 15,000 toys.
She is also an aspiring pastor who plans on attending divinity school. “She already preaches,” said Belynda. With her church, Susanna Wesley United Methodist Church, she has received the Jefferson Award, which is given to select individuals for their impact of positive change in their local community. Eventually, Charlotte would like to take her story, and testimony, to the Ellen DeGeneres show, where she relishes the opportunity to inspire kids all over the country.
But she does plan on continuing with football at the high school and college levels. Her next hurdle will be noteworthy as she plans on trying out for the Gloucester High JV team.
“The coaches said it was OK,” said Belynda. “They did tell us that they haven’t had a girl make it through conditioning,” added Scott Kirby, with Belynda interjecting, “conditioning is not a problem.”
It is obvious that Charlotte does not like to lose. Watching her run sprints with her Gator teammates at a Sunday morning practice at Dozier Middle School, the youngster finishes in the top-five out of 15-20 players. Afterward, she is all smiles as she runs into her father as if he were playing linebacker.
“I love it,” said Charlotte, speaking of her time with the Gators. And while running wind sprints is fine, she hates sitting on the sideline waiting for her chance to play in a real game. In fact, running is not her favorite part of football.
“I like it when we get to hitting,” adds Charlotte, just before bashing into Scott’s side one more time. She has experience. Before moving to the skill positions, Charlotte was a formidable nose tackle, albeit one who tipped the scale with a double-digit number.
She’s definitely not a kicker.
– Jim McGrath