Special to the Citizen
DEARBORN — Barriers have been broken this fall in the small town of Dearborn.
North Platte High School’s Aleis Stewart is believed to be the first female football player for the Panthers. She served a kicker against West Platte on Friday, Oct. 4.
Stewart has been an avid softball and soccer player her entire life. But with her soccer options being limited at North Platte, Stewart shifted her attention to football, catching the attention of coach Reis Wright.
“I was messing around in gym class and Wright saw me,” Stewart said. “Then he started talking to me, and after that, I was really interested in it.”
According to Stewart’s mother, football has been of interest for quite some time, it just didn’t seem possible before this year.
“I used to play soccer when I was younger, and I couldn’t play last year, because softball got in the way,” Stewart said.
With a void in her schedule, Stewart managed to find time for football, often coming to practice straight from softball.
Wright had high praise for Stewart’s work ethic, saying she was a hustler and grinder.
“It takes courage to go out for football the first time — for anyone — but she is a great competitor,” Wright said. “She’s very serious about her job. I know that.”
Wright noted her importance to the team, while also sharing his admiration of her perseverance.
“She’s a great kid,” Wright said. “I’m a big fan of hers.”
According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, in 2017, 596,000 of the 5.5 million Americans who played tackle football were female. While having a female or two on the football team may be common in some places, this is possibly North Platte’s first such experience.
However, the Panthers’ football team had no problem welcoming a female kicker on to the team, according to Stewart.
“(My teammates) were very open to it,” Stewart said.
Stewart was nervous to join the team initially, and she said that she’s still nervous even after a number of weeks on the team. But she exudes confidence on the field, and her teammates embrace her and encourage her as much, if not more, than they do anyone else on the team.
In the Panthers’ first victory of the season against West Platte, Stewart kicked off twice. During both kickoffs, screams of ‘Alex is awesome’ and ‘I love Alex so much’ could be heard from numerous young girls in the crowd.
Stewart is grateful for the opportunity to be adored by so many fans and encouraged all girls who are interested in football to give it a shot.
“Definitely try it,” Stewart said. “It’s amazing.”