Activity surrounding the first day of Grand Blanc’s eighth-grade football practice came to a virtual standstill when Alicia Woollcott entered the room.
Was she just passing through? Had she become lost looking for cheerleader tryouts?
Woollcott drew attention because she was there to join the team. It was not a joke or some of kind of stunt. The spunky, determined athlete with a big, bright smile was serious and hoped her new teammates would take her seriously.
Not all did.
Some inevitable snickers and less-than-flattering comments followed, but Carter Merrell would have none of it.
“It really bothered me when some people were making fun of Alicia, because nobody deserves that,” recalled Merrell, now a high school senior. “I remember standing up and telling those people that Alicia was part of our football family now and they needed to accept her. Since then, she has been a great teammate, always there for us and a strong worker. I’m very proud of her for that.”
Buoyed by Merrell’s support and the eventual acceptance of her other teammates, Woollcott, also a senior, has indeed been a fixture on Grand Blanc’s eighth-grade, freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams for the past four years.
This season, she was an important part of the Bobcats’ special teams, including the kick return unit, playing in every game. Woollcott, a 5-foot-5, 165-pound long-haired blonde, also saw action at inside linebacker.
“I was actually kind of nervous that first day of eighth-grade practice and not sure what the reaction was going to be,” recalled Woollcott, who was inspired to try the sport after watching games with her father, Mark. “There were other players who made comments, but I’m so thankful Carter stood up for me. Now, the guys on the team are all like my brothers and treat me like I’m one of them. We’re there for each other.”
That was never more evident than during halftime of Grand Blanc’s October 6 game against Livonia Churchill, when those in attendance were treated to the rare sight of a Homecoming Queen candidate awaiting the big announcement in her football uniform.
But there was Woollcott, who had never been part of a Homecoming Court before, standing on the track in her No. 35 jersey and full pads surrounded by candidates in more traditional, elegant attire.
The crowd grew quiet before the announcement boomed from the speakers:
“And your 2017 Grand Blanc Homecoming Queen is Ms. Alicia Woollcott!”
Woollcott threw up her arms in celebration before donning the crown and sash she had so coveted since elementary school.
“It was an incredible moment for so many reasons,” she said. “Especially the support I received from so many of my fellow students who voted for me, along with my friends and the community,” she said. “That was very emotional for me, and to see how happy the team was for me was amazing. I had campaigned to be voted to the Court, but had no idea what my chances were of actually being named Queen.”
Merrell, who was among those who voted Woollcott to the team’s leadership committee this season, had a pretty good idea.
“Well, she had 80 votes from all of us on the team for sure and I know how well-liked Alicia is around school, so it didn’t surprise me when she was named Queen,” he said. “We do treat her just like one of the guys, but we were so excited to see Alicia become Queen.”
Among the elated was first-year Grand Blanc coach, Clint Alexander, who had never coached a girl in more than 20 seasons on the sidelines. In fact, of the thousands of players on high school rosters throughout the state last year, only 125 were girls according to the Michigan High School Athletic Association.
“What a special night for Alicia, who could not be more deserving,” Alexander commented. “The team was going crazy for her because they all think the world of her and love her like a sister. She couldn’t have been happier being crowned in her football jersey. I was a little worried about what kind of response a football player running for Queen was going to get, but Alicia is so humble and selfless and does nothing to seek attention for herself.”
But it was attention Woollcott received as her story was picked up by media outlets throughout the country.
The highlight was an October 13 appearance on NBC’s “Megyn Kelly Today” in New York with fellow female football pioneers Jenn Welter, the first woman to coach in the NFL for the Arizona Cardinals and Rebecca Longo, who last year became the first woman to earn a college football scholarship to an NCAA school at the Division II level or higher when she signed with Adams State University in Colorado.
Of course, Woollcott was sure to fly back to Michigan in time for the Bobcats’ game that evening. National television was not going to interfere with the sport she loves.
“I’ve always been really passionate about football, especially that it helps get aggression out and the contact of it,” said Woollcott, also a member of Grand Blanc’s competitive cheerleading, powerlifting and girls water polo teams. “I really love everything about playing defense. I do everything the guys do with the same intensity and don’t expect anyone to take it easy on me.”
While he appreciates Woollcott’s passion, Alexander is quick to point out that she brings so much more to the team.
“Alicia is one of the smartest players we have and has tremendous leadership qualities,” he said. “Because of that, she is the perfect player to have leading our kick return team. She also has this way of reading people and that’s very valuable, because she is the first one I talk to about what is going on with the team. Alicia is always willing to help anyone who might be struggling with something.”
Woollcott was struggling with a decision in the seventh grade as she contemplated whether to return to the sidelines as a cheerleader the next football season, or try to get on the field.
“I decided I wanted to experience playing football and, at first, my parents were like ‘Oh, okay’,” she said. “My mom even brought me a flyer for eighth-grade cheerleading tryouts before I reminded her I was planning to play football. My parents (Mark and P.J.) have been behind my decision ever since.”
Becoming committed to competitive powerlifting in 10th grade also paid dividends for Woollcott’s football career. She placed eighth in the state powerlifting meet as a sophomore before being named captain of the co-ed squad last year and finishing third, squatting 300 pounds, bench-pressing 175 and deadlifting 335.
A base on the Bobcats’ competitive cheerleading squad, Woollcott helped Grand Blanc finish second in the district last season and fifth at the regional, missing a state-meet berth by less than a point.
This fall, Woollcott saw more playing time in football games than any previous season after impressing Alexander with her abilities and her words.
“‘I know why I play and I know what I’ve gotten myself into,” Woollcott wrote when Alexander asked players for feedback about why they play and what they would change about the program. “’If I get knocked down, don’t help me up and don’t feel sorry for me’.”
Photography by Eric Dutro & Provided by Alicia Woollcott