A girl rules on Kimberton boys' team
Kayla Franklin overheard him, and of course, it bugged her.
It didn't matter that Franklin was a nervous 15-year-old freshman, maybe 5-foot-4 on a good day, and a girl playing her first varsity soccer game on the boys' team at Kimberton Waldorf.
An opposing boy pointed her way during a preseason scrimmage and warned his teammate to watch out for her. Don't worry, the teammate replied, "she's not getting past me."
That day, he was right. But when they met in the regular season, Franklin dribbled straight by him for a shot on goal.
"He was like, 'She bested me!' " Franklin said. "It made me really want to get past him after he said that. I definitely encountered a lot of surprised players."
As likely the best player on a boys' team, Franklin has drawn that reaction often.
Kimberton Waldorf is one of three schools in the Tri-County League, composed mostly of smaller, private schools, that allow girls on the boys' team because girls' soccer isn't offered.
Those associated with the Kimberton Waldorf program freely acknowledge that the level of play isn't up to the level of the surrounding public-school leagues. But that doesn't take away from how quickly Franklin has adapted to playing against bigger, stronger opponents.
Franklin leads the team with three goals in Kimberton's first five games, and is the only player to have scored in more than one game.
"I didn't really see anything, so to say, special with any of the girls . . . during practice," junior Ben Janisch said. "And then in the first game . . . she just beat every single defender, these huge guys, and I was like, 'What the heck is going on here?' I was shocked."
Franklin's skill level might be opening eyes, but the idea of girls on the boys' team is an old one at Kimberton Waldorf. Craig Brown has coached the team for most of the last 20 years, and girls have played for him as long as he can remember. One, Marta Zarzeka, served as cocaptain last season.
But the quantity and quality of their contributions this year are especially high. Five girls play on the team, making up a quarter of the roster.
Franklin starts, and defensive back Kelly Weber, a junior, is one of the first substitutes to enter. Sophomore Lily Clee also sees plenty of time. Clara Cownat and Clara Hoheisel are newcomers to the sport.
Franklin's father, Chris, initially had some reservations about letting his daughter play with older boys. A longtime athlete himself, he knows how chippy things can get.
After he watched a few games, his fears abated.
"She's got a tough spirit about herself," Chris Franklin said. "She's not going to go seek that out, but she's not going to stand for it, either."
Brown said the atmosphere at Kimberton Waldorf - spread out over a pastoral campus three miles from Phoenixville - allows the coed team to work. There are just 85 students in grades nine through 12. Most of the players have been together in the same small classes since they were young children.
Weber briefly spent time at a nearby public high school before returning.
"If there was a coed team there, the guys would be like, 'Oh, no way, they're not at our level,' " Weber said. "They would not accept it anywhere near as much as the guys on my team accept it."
Anyone would be foolish not to accept the contributions of Franklin, who plays year-round as a defender for the powerful Vincent United travel team, based near Owen J. Roberts High School.
Playing for Kimberton Waldorf is a different type of experience. At a recent practice, the team scrimmaged five-on-five across tennis courts with a mini-size ball. The middle-school team had claimed the big field for the day.
Franklin took a one-touch from her own end to deke a defender and fired a long shot that split the cones serving as a goal.
Brown ran onto the court and drew a line with his shoe. No more shooting beyond this mark, he said. He never anticipated anyone scoring from that far away.
Not for the first time, Franklin had surprised him.