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It's all family for Bishop Macdonell kicker Martina Vair

'She jumped right in, she's playing defence, she's playing contact with the boys,' said head coach, Justin Shoniker

Out of the names on the roster of 45 players for this year’s football team at Bishop Macdonell Catholic High School, one stands out from the 44 males listed.

Martina Vair is a Grade 12 student and the only female on her high school’s football team. On Friday, she will be making her debut as a kicker in a match up against John F. Ross.  

“I’m excited, my parents are annoyed with me for talking about it so much,” said Vair about the first game of the season.

A Green Bay Packers fan, Vair explains she has always loved football and was encouraged by a friend to try out for her high school team.

“I thought it was a good opportunity,” said Vair about her experience participating in tryouts, “It was a little nerve-wrecking, but the guys made me feel comfortable.”

Vair said she was drawn to the kicker position from watching Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby, and likes to see the distance she can get. Being a soccer player in the Ontario Player Development League in Cambridge, she admits she never kicked a football before.

"It was a little doubtful, I didn't know how my kicks were going to go," she said, "But once I got going, and once the team started supporting me in that, it was very helpful in not doubting me anymore, which was really nice of all the guys and the coaching staff."

Now, her current best distance as a kicker is 25 yards. This Friday, she hopes to show people what she can do on the field.

“I do have a stronger kick than most female athletes,” she said.

Head coach, Justin Shoniker, explains this is the first time since he’s been head coach that there has been a female player on the high school’s football team. When he first heard Vair might try out for the team, Shoniker said he got excited because she was a good athlete and they needed a kicker.

"It's one thing to hear when they're interested, but it's another thing when they show up," said Shoniker recalling his excitement when Vair tried out for the team.

"I was excited for her and the team, because I knew we would be better with her."

Since being Vair's coach, Shoniker said she is a versatile player and is more than just a kicker on the team. 

“She’s jumped right in,” said Shoniker about having Vair on their roster, “She’s playing defence, she’s playing contact with the boys.” 

He adds Bishop Macdonell's football team also has a strong female presence in the form of their team supervisor, Julie Bitton-Fraser, who has been involved for 11 years. Bitton-Fraser recalls about six years ago, having another girl on Bishop Macdonell's football team.

"Her and her brother were both on the team," said Bitton-Fraser, "She wasn't a kicker, she actually played out as a player."

Besides having female players, Bitton-Fraser said they also previously had players part of the LGBTQ+ community, and to her knowledge, never had an issue with bullying.

"No matter how big, short, or tall you are, there's a spot for you on the team."

Shoniker agrees.

“Football is the most inclusive sport there is," he said, "There’s no women’s football team, men’s football team, there’s just football.”

“I didn’t realize how close and connected they were,” said Vair about her teammates, who have made her feel included since becoming involved with football.

"I would say male sports have more of that family aspect, where as with females, it's a lot more independent and you want to play more for yourself." 

With this being her last year of high school, Vair said she wishes she had the chance to join the team back in Grade 9, but if given the opportunity in post-secondary,  she would love to keep playing as she hopes to inspire other girls to be engaged in school and sports.

"If coaches watched me and wanted me to kick for them, I would one hundred per cent take that opportunity," she said, "It would be good to not only play for myself, but for younger girls who want to take on those opportunities, but don't really believe in themselves."