‘Play my best game’: Rock Hill 8th grade girl makes history on the gridiron

Jo Schmidt isn’t your typical female football player.
Jo Schmidt isn’t your typical female football player.
Published: Sep. 27, 2023 at 10:59 PM EDT
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ROCK HILL, S.C. (WBTV) - Typically when girls join their school’s football team, it’s to fill a kicking vacancy.

Jo Schmidt isn’t your typical female football player.

The Rock Hill eighth grader started playing football in her backyard with her cousins — mostly boys — when she was five years old.

“My son used to play football when he was younger, and my girls were cheerleaders,” Schmidt’s mother Nichole Kaplan said. “Jo did not want to be on that side of the field, she wanted to be on the other side of the field.”

Fast-forward and Schmidt is now playing on both ends of the ball for the Sullivan Middle School Falcons as the team’s starting quarterback and defensive end.

She also handles kick-off duties for Sullivan.

“I like the physical part,” Schmidt said. “I like being able to prove that I’m not just the average female football player, that I can do everything that a boy can do.”

Proving to herself, and any little girls watching, that girls belong on the gridiron.

“She likes a challenge,” Schmidt’s father Jesse said. “A lot of folks say she can’t. For her it’s ‘put me on the line coach,’ or ‘give me the ball.’”

Schmidt’s drive on the field has now taken her to a place that no girl before her in South Carolina has ever gone.

Before the season, Schmidt was selected to the South Carolina roster for the Youth Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas. The postseason All-Star game pits some of the top players from South Carolina against top players from North Carolina.

“I cried, I was like ‘this is surreal,’” Kaplan said. “When she started playing when she was seven, eight years old, her goal was to make it to the Shrine Bowl.”

A chance to once again prove that girls belong in the game of football.

“Showing them that we can do just as much as guys can do,” Schmidt said. “And they should never be scared of anything like that.”

The Youth Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas takes place on Dec. 30 in Greenville, S.C.

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