The stomp of a silent snap count sends a flurry of bodies into motion.
Pads and helmets crash in unison as the athletes from Oklahoma School for the Deaf tighten the nuts and bolts for their season opener today against Life Christian High School.
It’s a familiar scene.
Eight-man football teams all across the state are preparing for their respective games. But at OSD they do things a little different. At OSD they play eight-man football with a young woman.
Like her teammates, Brittany Wimberly, 16, plays with a hearing impairment. But, unlike her teammates and the majority of high school football players, the sophomore has joined the team’s ranks as a young woman among young men.
“A lot of the girls join, but they never make it through camp,” OSD football coach Lawson Pair said. “But she stuck with it. She has earned my respect.”
Though this will be Wimberly’s first year playing organized football, she said she’s loved the game since she was a little kid.
“It started out when I was really young,” Wimberly said. “When my brother got bored, we’d go out and play catch and I’d go to watch him play. Ever since I’ve been into it.”
But Wimberly’s path towards football truly began on the basketball court.
A physical style of play on the court led her coaches to suggest football as being the sport for her.
“I wouldn’t let anybody get to my goal,” she said. “I’d foul-out almost every game. I would have three fouls in the first quarter.”
Wimberly ran with her coaches suggestions and joined the off-season football camp.
At the start of the camp, Coach Pair said he had his reservations about Wimberly’s ability to handle the physical nature of football. But after watching Wimberly complete tackle drills and hold her own with the boys, he realized he wouldn’t have a safety liability on the field.
Instead, he said, he found himself a defensive end.
Besides using a different looker room and having a female supervisor on road games, Wimberly is treated just like any other player on the team. Pair said she practices, runs and tackles just like her teammates.
“She holds her own,” Pair said. “I don’t give her any special provisions or anything. I told the boys if they go easy on her they have to run posts.”
OSD freshman Parker Simpson, 14, said the idea of playing with a girl was weird to him, but with Coach Pair’s post-running policy and Wimberly’s grit, the team quickly grew to accept the sophomore defensive end as a teammate.
“She’s definitely not like any other girl I’ve ever met,” Simpson said. “She does more than what some boys can do. I don’t even see her as a girl anymore, she’s one of the guys.”
Before Wimberly came to OSD she was enrolled in public schools at Wynnewood and Elmore City. She said she was the only student with a hearing impairment at her previous schools.
“It was a lot of bullying, feeling alone,” Wimberly said.
In addition to the bullies, Wimberly said the school wouldn’t allow her to play sports.
Her time before her freshman year left her feeling isolated. But at OSD and eventually the football team, Wimberly said she found a family.
“They didn’t treat me like I was just some girl joining the team, they treated me like I was one of theirs,” Wimberly said.
At public school, the rapid hearing loss made her different. At OSD it made her fit in. Now, the 16-year-old brims with confidence and bravado.
Wimberly’s mom, Pamela Digby, 43, said she’s supported her daughters decision to join the team. But like any mother, she said she will be worried about her baby come gameday.
“She’s my baby, I just can’t picture her getting tackled and being hit,” Digby said. “But she is a tomboy, she is strong—strong minded and strong willed. So yeah, I can picture her handling herself out on the field.”
The sophomore defensive end is currently nursing a non-football related ankle sprain. Pair expects Wimberly to play in the homecoming game Sep. 9 against Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf.
But before ever taking the field, Wimbery said her time on the football team has given her a sense of accomplishment.
“I learned that a girl can do what I guy can do,” she said.