By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Mike Bond remembers the day that his daughter, Caitlin, came home with a simple request. “She told me she wanted to play football,” said Mike Bond, a Harrison native who is a security guard, working with the Hudson County’s Sheriff’s Department. “At first, I was a little hesitant. But I told her that if she wanted to do something, all she had to do was put her mind into it and she could do it.”
Caitlin, a 14-year-old Harrison High School freshman, was determined to give football a try.
“I play softball and basketball, but football was something different that I wanted to do,” said Bond, a freshman wide receiver/ defensive back. “I wanted to prove that it was a sport that not only guys could play. Football was something different than all the other sports. I knew I was going to give it a try.”
So when Caitlin told her father, she didn’t know what the reaction would be.
“He was very supportive,” Bond said of her father. “He just told me that he didn’t want me to get hurt.”
Harrison High School head football coach Dave Nankivell knew Caitlin from playing in the town’s recreation softball program.
“I’ve known her for about three years and I knew she was serious, but I didn’t know what her motivation was,” Nankivell said. “I also didn’t know what we had to do legally.”
Nankivell said that he met with athletic director Kim Huaranga and school principal Ron Shields.
“We had to make sure we crossed every T and dotted every I,” Nankivell said. “This was all something new to me.”
Caitlin had to be told of all the different ramifications that came with being the first girl to ever play football for Harrison High School.
There would be dressing in a separate locker room, with no access whatsoever to the boys’ locker room. She was going to be asked to do all the same things that any member of the football team would be asked, in terms of physical conditioning.
“I sat her down and asked her if this was something she really wanted to do,” Nankivell said.
Caitlin Bond knew what was being expected of her.
“Once she understood, I said, `Welcome to the team,’” Nankivell said. “I just wanted to make sure she understood first.
My immediate reaction was caution. Caitlin’s not the biggest girl in the world, so I wanted to make sure she was able to hold her own. I also wanted to make sure that she wasn’t going to make a mockery of it. I really wanted to know her motivation. When she told me all she wanted to do was play football, I was all for it.”
And with that, little Caitlin Bond bucked the odds and became the first girl to ever play football in Harrison.
“She was not treated any differently from any of the boys,” Nankivell said. “She was asked to do everything.”
Since Bond never played organized football before, she had to find out what position she felt comfortable at.
“They actually asked me what position I wanted to play,” Caitlin Bond said. “I told the coaches I wanted to be a tight end or a wide receiver. I knew I wanted to be part of the offensive line.”
Bond never once was concerned about being able to handle the physical rigors of the sport.
“I wasn’t really worried about getting hurt,” Bond said. “If you get hurt in football, at least it proves you’re trying. The first couple of practices, I was wondering whether I could handle the conditioning, but I was used to it from playing basketball and softball. Even when the physical part got tougher, people always asked me when I was going to quit. I never once had the urge to quit. I knew I could handle it.”
“Caitlin is a very head strong kid,” Mike Bond said. “If she puts her mind to something, she’s going to do it, even if it is to prove everyone wrong. Sure, she came home with some bumps and bruises, but she was there every day. She hurt her knee and never said she couldn’t do it. She always said yes. She felt confident. The more she went to football practice, the more she liked it.”
Bond never once thought it was a difficult grind.
“It wasn’t that tough,” Bond said. “So I got dressed in a different locker room. I got on the field right after. The boys all accepted me as their teammate. I knew they would accept me, because I think I’m a good teammate in whatever sport I play. I felt pretty sure I could make it through the whole season.”
Which she has accomplished.
Despite the balky knee, Caitlin Bond survived the football season. She didn’t get to see much action, perhaps special teams play on the junior varsity level. But she was as much a part of the team as anyone else.
“She showed up every day for practice and was there every day,” Nankivell said. “It was a challenge to her, being that she’s undersized. But she did everything she was asked to do. I think the players didn’t look at her as a male or a female. She was just another football player. She stuck it out and came a long way in a short amount of time. There was never any quit in her and that’s why she was accepted as a teammate.”
Nankivell was asked how much of a football player Caitlin became.
“She needs time to learn the proper technique,” Nankivell said. “We lose a lot of firstyear football players because of it. But what Caitlin did is commendable. I give her a lot of credit because it wasn’t easy. She tried her hardest to be like everyone else. It’s not an easy sport. But she earned her stripes by being there.”
Caitlin Bond is happy she was able to stick it out through a tough season, through a year where the Blue Tide has not won a single game.
“I’m glad I did it,” Bond said. “I’m going to try to do it all four years of high school. There is a sense of accomplishment. Doing this helps build my confidence in everything. I think a lot of people are surprised I made it. They thought once I got hurt that I would quit. I think I’m even surprised I made it.”
However, her father isn’t.
“I’m very proud of her,” Mike Bond said. “She showed me that she really wanted to do something and she did it. It made me feel very proud of her being able to make it.”
As her athletic career in Harrison High continues, Bond hopes to play basketball and softball. Only in those sports, she’ll be with her own gender. She can put away the football pads and cleats until next August.