GARDINER — Are you sure you can handle it?

It was a simple, yet direct question Alex Thang — a senior at Gardiner Area High School — posed to his younger sister, Kassidy, when she told him she wanted to play football this fall.

“‘Yes, I can.’ That’s what she said,” said Alex, the starting nose tackle for the varsity team.

Kassidy Thang, a freshman, is hardly the first girl to play high school football, yet is certainly a rarity in the male-dominated sport. According to a 2014-15 survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations, 1,085,182 students participated in 11-player high school football in 2014. Of that, just 1,565 — or 0.14 percent — were girls.

“It’s nice to see a kid confident like that come out and join a team where they are very much a minority and historically have been,” Gardiner head coach Joe White said. “She has a solid character. She just smiles, shrugs a lot off, doesn’t have a complaint and hasn’t stuck out. It’s not like you look up and she’s last or she’s getting beat in a drill. She holds her own quite well.”

Part of what has allowed Kassidy — who plays on the school’s freshmen team and also wrestles during the winter — to keep up has been her mindset. She said one of the biggest reasons she came out for football was because she wanted to challenge herself.

“I played soccer for seven years and it’s still a challenging sport, but this is different and I like it much better,” she said. “It’s a really great experience.”

Preparation has also paid off for Kassidy. During the summer she worked out with her brother, who taught her both the technique of playing defensive tackle and lifting in the weight room as she looks to follow in his foot steps.

“It’s pretty great, actually, seeing a girl step up and joining really a men’s game,” Alex Thang said. “It shows that she has a lot of talent in her and ability to prove the guys wrong.”

Her brother and coach are not the only ones who have noticed that she can play. Eli Swan, a teammate of Kassidy’s on the freshmen team, said she has fit in just fine so far.

“It’s my first year here and I was really surprised to find out that she was playing on the team,” Swan said. “She does a lot better than most of the freshmen here. It’s surprising how good she is and that she’s committed to sticking with it. It’s really cool.”

While her teammates have been accepting of her, Kassidy — who saw some time at nose tackle in her team’s game against Oxford Hills last Thursday — noted that there has been some surprise from the opposition when her helmet comes off. “When I walk onto the field they’re like, ‘is that a girl?’ Then after the game they’re like, ‘no way, it’s a girl on the team,'” she said. “They’re shocked.”

It will likely be something the opposition has to get used to over the next few years, as Kassidy said she plans on sticking with football. As she moves up in the ranks of the program her size will likely become a disadvantage against larger opponents, but, as White notes, there are ways of overcoming that.

“If she can execute the tasks that are set forth I think she’ll be able to compete on those JV and varsity levels,” White said. “Considering the fact that she’s a freshman, she’s growing just like the rest of them and I could see her ready for varsity competition some day. That comes back to the type of kid that she is.”

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley

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