On a typical September Friday night at South Plantation High School, the home team, the Paladins, hosted Ft. Lauderdale’s Stranahan High School.
But something, or someone, atypical stood out on the sidelines.
The 5-foot-f-inch, 140 pound quarterback in the huddle had a blonde ponytail protruding from the back of her helmet.
Erin DiMeglio, 17, is breaking gender barriers in Florida, and it’s believed she is the first female quarterback in the state not only to take the field, but also to complete a pass.
“I’m not really the kind of person who likes to be the center of attention all the time,” said DiMeglio, a senior at South Plantation. “But I like to be part of the team. I don’t want to be pulled away from my teammates, so I just kind of go along with it, you know, and then just go on with my regular life.”
DiMeglio said she did not know she was the first girl to play quarterback in a game, and though she may not have joined the team for the attention, she is certainly the focus of discussion among local and national media.
“I just was playing because I loved playing,” she said. “I had no idea I was the first this and that, I wasn’t intentionally trying to break records, I was just doing it.”
DiMeglio started playing flag football in fourth grade, and joined the South Plantation football team at the suggestion of her long-time coach, Doug Gatewood, who is the Paladins’ head football coach.
“Football’s one of those sports that if you can play, you’re going to play,” Gatewood said. “My goal is to have the best 11 kids on the field at any given time, and she can play.”
DiMeglio’s parents required little convincing when their daughter asked for approval to play high school football.
“When she first came to me and said ‘the coach wants to know if I can put on some pads and play,’ and I was like—what was that?” said Tom DiMeglio, a former high school football player. “But things have changed now, and it’s a different time.”
Kathleen DiMeglio knew her daughter’s passion for the game, and relented.
“It makes her very happy and this is fulfilling a dream,” she said.
Gatewood said DiMeglio being in the middle of a testosterone-fueled sport hasn’t caused any problems.
“There could have been issues, but it wasn’t that way,” he said. “She doesn’t ask for any special treatment. When they do up-downs, she does up-downs. I almost forget she’s there sometimes. The boys accept her wholeheartedly.”
DiMeglio’s parents said other girls have thanked their daughter for her courage.
“I never thought of myself as a trendsetter,” DiMeglio said. “I just did my own thing. If some girl looked up to me as a role model, I would feel great about that.”