Freshman Jackie Silverman is the first girl to play football at Deerfield High School

  • Deerfield freshman Jackie Silverman kicks off in the Warriors frosh-soph football team's season-opening win over Hinsdale South.

    Deerfield freshman Jackie Silverman kicks off in the Warriors frosh-soph football team's season-opening win over Hinsdale South. Courtesy of Ken Kliebard

  • When she's not practicing her kicking, veteran Deerfield line coach Bob Zima helps freshman Jackie Silverman learn football technique and understand formations and plays.

      When she's not practicing her kicking, veteran Deerfield line coach Bob Zima helps freshman Jackie Silverman learn football technique and understand formations and plays. Dave Oberhelman; doberhelman@dailyherald.com

 
 
Updated 9/8/2022 5:01 AM

Deerfield High School opened in 1960, and in the decades since a girl had never played football for the Warriors.

Until now.

 

Freshman Jacklyn "Jackie" Silverman has entered the program.

A fan of watching football on television, and also a soccer player, she's giving football a shot as a kicker, and looking toward the long term.

"I hope to be able to play it four years, and maybe eventually start, because right now I'm not starting," Silverman said after the Warriors' frosh-soph team's 14-6 victory over Glenbrook North in Northbrook.

"I've always watched it with my dad (Seth)," she said. "I loved watching it, and I thought it'd be really fun to play. I've played soccer, so I thought I could kick.

"My dad would never let me play a position where I could actually get hurt, so it's a little harder to get hurt as kicker, so I decided I should play."

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Her long, dark hair trailing neatly in a straight line from beneath her helmet to below her shoulder pads, entering Week 3 Silverman had kicked off in live action, but had yet to attempt a field goal or extra point. The Warriors ran a pair of 2-point conversion plays against Glenbrook South.

That doesn't bug her.

"I'm having so much fun," she said.

Deerfield head coach Steve Winiecki's time is spent with the varsity team, but he likes what he's seen from the freshman, particularly her work ethic.

"Her drive to get better at kicking was evident from the first day I saw her in summer camp," he said in an email to the Herald. "She works hard at her craft, spends time with the varsity kicker (junior Tommy Guczal) and her coach to improve her technique, and competes every day."

About 5-foot-6 and 110 pounds, wearing No. 15, Silverman called Guczal "very helpful" in helping her hone her form nearly every day in practice, polishing her technique as she approaches the ball, and on her follow-through after booting it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Veteran line coach Bob Zima has taken Silverman under his wing, teaching her things about the game she may not have learned watching on television.

"I know that, with special teams, with kickers there's a lot of down time, there's a lot of emptiness during a practice," said Zima, with the Deerfield football program since 1994.

"So I really wanted to make sure that I told her that whenever there's down time that she's going to come with the offensive line and learn how to get into a stance, learn the different techniques that the offensive linemen are going to do," he said.

"I really quiz her a lot during the practices about what the formation is, whether it's an inside zone or outside zone so that she has an understanding of the concept of the play. I quiz her all the time about secondary coverages, so I'm really trying to just help her understand the game of football besides just being a kicker."

Asked what Silverman's strengths were as a player, he said: "Dealing with me. And I say that meaning I don't treat Jackie any different than I would any of the boys, and I want her to have the full experience about what it's like to be a football player."

In practice she warms up with the team, delivers the kickoffs during special teams drills, works on her kicking technique, then joins Zima and the linemen before everyone's end-of-practice favorite, conditioning.

Zima later added another of Silverman's strengths.

"Her strengths have a lot to do with her personality, because that's just super-outgoing, very tolerant of the other kids," said Zima, who had never previously coached a female football player.

"It's special to be around a bunch of boys, but to be the one female around a bunch of boys, her outgoing personality and positiveness, I think the kids really embraced her based on that."

According to her mother, Amy, Jackie loves the camaraderie, and also perhaps the ability to serve as an inspiration for female athletes. When Zima realized there was a girl coming out for the freshman team he thought it was "an exciting opportunity" to get to work with her, he said.

"I think the more females we can get involved in the sport the better it is for the sport," Zima said.

Silverman, who also plays club soccer with North Shore FC and plans to play for Warriors soccer in the spring, came around to that line of thought.

"Originally, I wasn't doing it for anyone else; I'm, like, doing it for myself," she said. "But it's amazing that I can influence so many other people and other girls to play sports and break down the gender barrier."

She said her teammates support her, as do her friends, "my grade and my school," she said.

"Everybody's very open to me playing football, and I get cheered on," Silverman said. "Last week at our game (against Hinsdale South), I kicked twice and everybody's chanting my name. It's so welcoming and fun."

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