Suozzi sees spotlight, sidelines

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Suozzi sees spotlight, sidelines

BY VICKI NEEDHAM<br>THE ISLAND PACKET
Published Thursday, October 31, 2002 in The Island Packet  |  686 Words  |  /IslandPacket/sports/local

Paige Suozzi's phone rang off the hook for almost two weeks following her dismissal from the Hilton Head Christian Academy's first-year football team. '
Reporters from CNN, ABC News radio in Los Angeles along with local television stations contacted the junior would-be place kicker about her abrupt departure from the team because of headmaster Mike Lindsey's concern about putting a girl into a potentially dangerous situation on the football field. '
USA Today and numerous Web sites, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, posted Suozzi's saga as a top prep story in the Southeast. '
The reaction from many readers was of questioning surprise. Can she kick a football? Was she any good? If she made the cut, why can't she play? What about Title IX? '
The host of an ABC radio program in California went as far as wondering why Suozzi's family wasn't suing the school. One caller said his daughter had played high school football in California, and, although he would let her play again, he might be more hesitant with letting her participate on an inexperienced squad. '
Despite the swirl around her, the 16-year-old calmly handled the spotlight that was so quickly thrust upon her, managing a tricky situation with the utmost maturity. '
From the beginning, all Suozzi had done was honor the request of her coach. '
When Eagles head football coach Jim Carlen asked the junior soccer standout to try out as his kicker, Suozzi eagerly complied. She spent most of the summer honing her technique with her father, Ernie, a soccer coach at the Christian Academy. Eventually, she got the hang of popping extra points and 25- to 30-yard field goals through the goal posts, making about 90 percent of her short-range kicks. '
During a 1-8 season, the Eagles haven't kicked a field goal or an extra point. '
The Christian Academy ends its season today against rival Hilton Head Preparatory School in a contest scheduled for 7 p.m. at Hilton Head-Bluffton Community Stadium on the campus of Hilton Head High School.'
Suozzi won't likely be there, but not for the reason you might imagine.'
Yes, she agreed to turn in her pads as easily as she had agreed to don them when Lindsey asked her to quit. But shortly thereafter, she assumed a new role with the Eagles -- team manager. Instead of booting field goals and extra points, Suozzi was helping the team by taping ankles and fetching water.'
Her decision to remain a part of the team was an easy one. '
Suozzi didn't want to lose the close bond developed with her 30 teammates. In an already close-knit school, she grew accustomed to the players treating her like one of the guys ... while also watching those teammates become protective big brothers. Before she left the team, they had promised to do anything to stop an opponent from crashing through the line and getting to her. '
For head coach Jim Carlen, her presence was essential and welcomed on the football field. '
"It's really hard to find good managers and she did a great job for us," Carlen said. "She's mature and she handles the kids well. It was important for her to be out there."'
Even if Suozzi had fought to play, her kicking career would've been cut short by a bout with mononucleosis. By the middle of the season, the normally enthusiastic young lady seemed sapped of her energy. A visit to the doctor found she had mono, forcing her from the sidelines to the bleachers. Within the last couple of weeks, Suozzi has been out of school to fight a relentless case of the illness. She will probably miss the biggest game of the Eagles' first varsity season tonight.'
But with cabin fever taking over, Suozzi came out for the first half of the Eagles' game against Porter-Gaud last Friday and cheered on the players who became her teammates, close friends and family ... all in a few short months.