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The City Journals

Three Murray sisters among the hundreds playing girls' tackle football this spring

May 07, 2018 04:15PM ● By Carl Fauver

Murray sisters Elisia Cruz, Talia Ramos and Deja Cruz (L-R) are all playing in a Utah girls tackle football league this spring. (Barbara Lozano)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

On the eve of Super Bowl LII three months ago, the NFL hosted its seventh annual awards night, where all of their top performers were introduced. And among all the big, burly men who were honored that night, there was also one female – a 14-year-old from Utah.

Sam Gordon of Herriman, received the league’s first ever “NFL Honors Game Changer Award” for her groundbreaking work – along with a handful of adults, including her father – to establish the Utah Girls Tackle Football League. After playing three years of Ute Conference football, with nearly all boys, Sam helped launch the league in 2015.

“We started with 50 girls,” said league president Brent Gordon, Sam’s father. “Now, just three years later, we are up to 280 girls on 18 different teams. 

In Murray, Talia Ramos was one of those first 50 players. Then, after moving out of state during the 2016 season, Talia returned to the league last year, and was joined by her younger sister, Elisia Cruz.

Now this spring, a third sister – Deja Cruz – is also giving the full contact sport a try for the first time.

“The girls’ mother, Catrina Ramos, played a couple of years of tackle football in the Ute Conference and their uncles also played high school football,” the sisters’ grandmother Barbara Lozano said. “It’s been the most wonderful experience Talia has ever had.  It’s given her self-confidence, strength and personality. Her sisters also seem to be loving it so far.” 

As Sam Gordon accepted her NFL honor she received a standing ovation from the likes of league commissioner Roger Goodell along with dozens of NFL players, their spouses and other celebrities. As the noise subsided, the eighth grader offered a bold prediction. 

“Utah will be the birthplace of girls’ high school football,” she told the glittery audience in Minneapolis, site of Super Bowl LII.  “Throughout history, women have had to fight for the right to follow their dreams. My dream is that high schools and colleges will offer girls' football teams, and I am going to fight to see my dream come true. Equality is our Super Bowl.”

If Sam Gordon’s name is vaguely ringing a bell, it’s because you first learned it a little more than five years ago, when a highlight reel of her dazzling football play became a YouTube sensation, drawing national acclaim. As the only girl on her Ute Conference team that season, Gordon rushed for nearly 2,000 yards, scored 35 touchdowns and had 65 tackles. 

The Murray sisters aren’t putting up those kinds of numbers. But they are enjoying the sport.

“Football has always been my favorite sport,” Talia Ramos said. “I want to change history. It’s always been my dream to be the first woman to play in the NFL.”

Talia and her grandmother say the two younger sisters haven’t played long enough yet to really know how much they like tackle football. But Barbara Lozano hopes the experience will be as positive for Elisia and Deja as it has been for their older sister.

“Even though the league fees aren’t that high, I did have to save up some money to get all three of the girls in this year,” Lozano said. “But the coaches have all been so encouraging and positive that I know it is good for them.” 

Utah Girls Tackle Football League costs are $115 for seventh through 12th grade girls and $85 for fifth and sixth graders.

“But we work with families who have difficulty coming up with the money,” league president Gordon added. “This is such a positive experience for girls to learn about hard work, responsibility and teamwork. We don’t want to leave anyone behind.”

To help fulfill his daughter’s dream for sanctioned Utah high school girls’ football, Brent has had to turn to the courts.

“We have filed a Title IX lawsuit against the Canyons, Granite and Jordan school districts to force them to establish girls’ football teams,” he said. “We originally filed the action last June and it could end up in a jury trial.”

But that’s all "big picture" stuff. For now, Murray sisters Talia, Elisia and Deja are just happy to have their teams, which began play in mid-March and will wrap up before Memorial Day.

Nationally, concern over concussions has played a big role in seeing tackle football participation numbers drop at the high school level, and for younger players – nearly all boys.

But at least here in Utah, girls’ tackle football continues on an upward trend.