Woodburn middle school student athlete Madison Navarra sits just behind the defensive line at Woodburn High School on the eve of Halloween.
Navarra, the Bulldogs' eighth-grade middle linebacker, watches the play unfold as the opposing Philomath Warriors sweep the ball left. Navarra reacts quickly, pursues the play, and pulls down the ball carrier from behind for the tackle.
The Bulldogs would go on to lose to the Warriors, concluding a winless 2019 season, but Navarra was excited to finish out the season and saw a lot of positive steps forward from her teammates this past fall.
"We all had goals, and most of them got at this game," she said. "I think it was pretty great in the way we played this game.
"As we know, this team hasn't been the greatest to us, but I think we did a lot better in the way we played," she continued. "Our coach, Derek Bright, he's a phenomenal coach. He's been getting us to higher levels every single game."
Navarra has been playing football for more than half of her life. Starting at six-years-old, Navarra was introduced to the game by her three older brothers — all of whom played.
"When my brothers started playing football, I was like, 'oh my gosh, I want to play too. This looks really fun,'" she said.
Over the years, Navarra has played nearly every position available on offense and defense. Quarterback, running back, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker.
"Never wide receiver because I couldn't catch," she said.
As a seventh-grader, she was the Bulldogs' starting center. This year, she moved to running back and led the team's defensive corps from the middle linebacker position.
Although football is a co-ed sport, the vast majority of student athletes in Oregon who suit up are boys. According to the Oregon Sports and Activities Association, of the 11,888 high school athletes who played football in Oregon in 2018, 67 were girls, a little more than 0.05 percent.
That number has been steadily rising over the past four years, more than double than the 29 girls who played high school football in the state in 2015, while the number of boys who have participated during that time has shrunk by nearly 2,000 participants.
Navarra said it doesn't bother her playing in a sport that is predominantly considered a male sport, preferring to let her play on the field do the talking.
"I just think, as a girl, I don't care if I stand out," she said. "The point is, I work as hard as I can, and I get to the big positions by working as hard as I can. There's no other way of doing it. It's just put your all, all the time."
To her teammates, Navarra isn't an outlier, but merely another Bulldog. Since suiting up in elementary school, Navarra has played with much of the same teammates every year.
"Everybody with the team, I've played with some of them since I first started," Navarra said. "Some of them are new, but they got used to it and they realized what my potential was, and it's pretty awesome."
In addition to her older brothers, Navarra has additional role models to look to in her mom, Crystal Thomas, who played for the Portland Shockwave women's football team. Navarra also has a pair of friends from the Oregon Ravens women's football team who came out to cheer Navarra on in her final game of the season.
"They've just been super amazing throughout the whole season," Navarra said. "They thought supporting this girl — she's the only girl — they've been great supports throughout this season. They're really awesome."
Outside of football, Navarra stays active throughout the year in other athletic endeavors. She competes in basketball during the winter season and is a sprinter and thrower for the track and field team in the spring. In between, she trains in taekwondo and is training to be a barrel racer in equestrian competitions.
"I don't really do anything outside of athletics," she said.
With her middle school playing days officially in the books, Navarra has every intention of joining the Woodburn High School football team and earning a spot on the varsity squad as soon as possible.
"I just love the sport," she said. "It's really cool. I love tackling, running the ball. I just think its really fun."
Oregon High School Football Participation
As participation among high school boys in football has declined over the years, the number of girls playing has more than doubled in the past four years.
2018: 11,821 boys, 67 girls
2017: 12,419 boys, 54 girls
2016: 12,997 boys, 44 girls
2015: 13,788 boys, 29 girls
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