Voices of Diversity: West Branch HS First Female Football Player
WEST BRANCH, IA (CBS2/FOX28) - When the town of West Branch turns on its Friday night lights, #35 on the field gets to play the sport she loves.
"This town has been a football town since the beginning of time," West Branch High School Football head coach Butch Pedersen said. "It's not my program. It's the community's program."
Sixteen-year-old sophomore Tatum Koenig is part of that community's program. She plays safety.
"I definitely think I'm not different from any guy," she said. "My expectations are the same. I can handle it."
She never holds back.
"Just being able to hit someone and you're not punished," she said, reflecting on what she loves most about the sport.
The chance to step out on the football field started with a conversation between coach and dad.
"I said, 'Do you want me to talk to her?' and he said 'That's totally up to you,'" Pedersen said. "And of course that was an opening for me to talk to Tatum."
It's a coach's job to recruit anyone who's willing to throw on a helmet.
"First practice, I love this," Tatum said about getting on the field this year. "I really miss this."
She's a well-rounded student-athlete, which is a family tradition. Both her parents played sports at West Liberty High School.
"She comes home everyday from practice, talking about how much she enjoys what she's doing, how much she's enjoyed that day," Brad Koenig, Tatum's dad, said.
Tatum started playing football in the fifth grade, with her dad, Brad Koenig, as her coach. She also plays volleyball, basketball, track and softball.
"When Tatum started, we said, 'Wouldn't it be special someday to see both kids on the same team?," Nikki Koenig, Tatum's mom, said.
That special someday is now.
Tatum plays alongside her role model and quarterback, brother Cooper Koenig.
"She's a really good tackler," Cooper said. "She closes the ball well. She goes low and takes the legs out. No good runningback can run without legs."
The Koenig family and Coach Pedersen said the community's been receptive and supportive.
"I don't look at Tatum as a girl," Pedersen said. "I look at her as a football player, a student-athlete. If she's good enough to play, she'll play. If she's not good enough to play, she's not going to. She understands that. Her competitive nature put her on the field."
Tatum said conditioning sometimes gets hard, but it's worth the pain.
Sometimes the sport can get too intense, but mom knows she can handle it.
"There will be a moment where I can hear a collision and I just have to look away a little bit because it's a pretty intense sport," Nikki said.
This chance to play football is a touchdown in Tatum's life.
"If a young lady wants to play athletics and she wants to be in a dominant male sport, then she has the right to do that and you as a coach need to allow her to do that," Pedersen said.
"I'm just like everyone else," Tatum said. "I'm just here to play football."