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At only 11, Aleena is fully aware that she is breaking barriers. The well-spoken athlete was part of the team that took the win in Florida at the international NFL/CFL Flag football tournament in January. A team composed of 10 incredibly talented boys and one supergirl: Aleena.
“I started playing football two years ago. Our coach Jamil knew my dad because my little brother plays too and he asked me if I wanted to try out,” she explained candidly. “Most girls around me don’t practice the same sports as me, but I do it because it’s fun!”
Ever since Jamil Springer of Flight School recruited her, Aleena AKA Crystal Mamba, as her teammates call her, has been shaking her opponents on the field. When she’s not catching, Aleena stands at centre, a role she particularly enjoys fulfilling.
“A snap is crucial. It’s the start of the play so precision is key. You can never underestimate its impact.”
And her teammates trust her to do her part. While she acknowledges that football is still perceived as a masculine sport, Aleena never felt out of place on the gridiron.
“The guys are nice to me,” she says laughingly. “But what’s most important is that they care about my skill level. I think girls and women are underestimated for their athletic skills. We’re the strongest living bodies.”
Yes, those exact words came out the mouth of an 11-year-old. A brilliant 11-year-old who already masters the difficult task of balancing sports and academics. Managing both can be challenging – any professional ball player can confirm that -, but it teaches you perseverance and self-discipline. Aleena embodies those two things. Her parents started signing her up to various activities when she was four. She did ballet, tap dancing, gymnastics, basketball, handball, badminton, soccer and football. Needless to say, she’s a busy bee. When answering our questions on the phone, she had just gotten home from one of her five weekly basketball practices.
“Sports keep you fit and alert,” she believes. “The same way I’m focused on the field or the court, I’m focused in the classroom. The same way I have to be alert when snapping the ball, I’m alert in school. Otherwise, I know I’ll be in trouble.”
Of course, when talking about trouble, she’s referring to her parents grounding her. But that rarely happens. While they never pushed her into anything, her mom and dad have always been cheering in her corner and understand the importance of variety. Even grandma encourages her to pursue her passion. Letting Aleena discover her preferences allowed her to choose her own path and, while it may not be conventional, it makes her happy.
“For me, football is about making friends and learning to work with other people because you rely on your teammates. I also hope I can lead and inspire girls to build a successful future for themselves. I don’t want to be doing laundry for the rest of my life and I don’t think anyone should have to do that. If you want something, go get it and whatever you do, be the best at it.”
Wise young lady.
Girls are still much more likely than boys to drop out of sports any form of physical activity right before they hit puberty. But girls like Aleena don’t quit. They keep playing because they made it their way of life; because they won’t let stereotypes stop them from chasing their dreams; because they just love the game. Girls like Aleena are dauntless, hard-working and smart. They can run, they can catch, they can shoot, they can skate, they can kick, they can throw, they can dance, they can snap and they are shaping the world in which we’ll live tomorrow.