Spotlight: Anya Chauhan

Chauhan+is+Irvington%27s+only+female+football+player.

Caitlin Chen

Chauhan is Irvington's only female football player.

By Caitlin Chen | Editor-in-Chief

Quiet and soft-spoken, Anya Chauhan nearly didn’t write her name down on the list for football tryouts. Standing at barely five feet tall, she felt the rest of the players staring her, the only girl in the room.

Chauhan’s journey into football began when she and her father went to football games together in San Diego. Though she always wanted to join football, she was hesitant, knowing that it would involve a lot of tackling and the potential to get hurt. Still, she decided to go for it over the summer.

On the first day of tryouts, the coaches checked athletes’ 40-yard dash time, their vertical leap, their horizontal leap, their shuttle run time, and their standing broad jump. Chauhan, though small, was fast.

“Back in my time, they wouldn’t let girls have the time of day,” Coach Wayne Stone said. “You had to be a certain size. Now, you play because of your skill.”

During the season, Chauhan trains alongside her teammates, lifting weights, tackling, and running. While her teammates were inclined to go soft on her, Coach Stone refused to let them.

“She gets mad. And I get mad too,” Coach Stone said. “I tell them, ‘Go do it again.’ And she wants to clobber him because the game is designed a certain speed, a certain way. The game is very fast and it’s a very violent sport. There’s not stipulation, boy or girl. We don’t have girls or boys in this team, we have football players.”

“Sometimes when the guys wouldn’t think I couldn’t take a hit, the coach would yell at him,” Chauhan said. “He’d say, ‘You should go ahead and hit her as hard as you can because if she goes onto the field and they don’t know she’s a girl and she gets hit, it’s not going to be her fault or their fault. It’s going to be your fault.’ On the field, I’m the shortest and I’m really thin. During practice, it’s been helping me not become intimidated by other players that are 6’5” and weigh 300 pounds.”

Her height makes her easy to pick out on the field. While her diminutive size keeps her from playing offense, it is also an advantage. As cornerback, her job is to cover receivers and make tackles. While taller players need to get down low to pull players from the other team down, she is “just there already.”

Though her teammates and coach see her as an equal, other teams have not been as welcoming.

“In our last game, against Moreau Catholic High School, when we were walking towards our lockers, we had to go past the other team’s lockers,” Chauhan said. “The guys came out and they saw that I was a girl and they walked back inside and yelled ‘girl!’ and laughed. So I was like, ‘I’d better show these guys what I’m made of!’ When it was my turn to get on the field, on the first play, I was playing corner. I heard them yelling, ‘Knock the air out of her!’ The receiver ran up to me and tackled me even though he’s not allowed to. We both fell down and my whole arm went numb, but all of the sudden I saw the running back come towards me, so I got up. I pushed the guy who tackled me, so he wouldn’t be able to keep me away from the runner back. I made the tackle and I kept them from scoring.”

Her refusal to give up has earned her the nickname “Thunder” and a position as the coach’s “Little Assistant.”

“When I’m not satisfied the way we’re doing something, I say, ‘Anya, you satisfied?’ She goes, ‘No, Coach,’” Coach Stone said. “So she wants to see things performed the best. And that’s the way it should be. That’s how I am. She works exceptionally hard, and she doesn’t give up.”