Female football player is a pioneer at Fort

Sophomore Lisa Spangler breaks stereotypes by starting at linebacker

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

Published:

 

Fort Vancouver’s starting middle linebacker tips the scales at 144 pounds.

“I’m a lot tougher than I look,” Lisa Spangler said. “I can take a beating.”

She also can handle the demands of football. Through two games, Spangler is leading the Trappers in tackles.

“She is a great football player. She is fundamentally sound. She does all the things the right way,” Fort Vancouver coach Eric Ollikainen said. “I’m no more worried for her than any other undersized linebacker.”

Nothing to be concerned about, Spangler says. She can take care of herself. In fact, when she is not practicing football, the 5-foot, 5-inch sophomore is training in mixed martial arts.

“I’m pretty much a violent person,” Spangler said.

Well, only in a controlled environment.

“I don’t just beat people randomly,” she said, with a smile that suggests she just might.

Spangler started the game like many young players — male or female — competing in a flag football league.

“I accidently tackled someone in practice, trying to get the flag,” she said. “I thought that was a lot more fun. I asked my dad if I could play tackle. He said if I cry even once, he’d take me out. I never did.”

She played six years of Pop Warner football.

“It’s pretty amazing, actually,” said Larry Spangler, her father. “She’s impressed a lot of new coaches. At every level, she always had to prove herself to the coach. Once she did that, she got a lot of respect.”

Lisa Spangler was a team captain for the Fort Vancouver junior varsity team as a freshman, sometimes playing on the defensive line.

“I had no idea I was going to be on varsity this year, let alone start. It was exciting,” she said of that first game. “I told everyone about it, my friends and family. I posted it on Facebook.”

She had eight solo tackles that night and recovered a fumble.

“Her goal since she was 8 years old was to get a letter in football someday,” Larry Spangler said.

Females playing football is not particularly newsworthy anymore. But often, they are kickers or wide receivers, or rarely get into varsity action. Spangler is in the middle of everything on Friday nights, the middle of the Fort Vancouver defense.

Right where she belongs, she said.

“I can’t catch. And usually, when I try to kick something, I completely miss it,” she said. “I’m not good at ball-handling. They never put me on offense. That’s fine. I love tackling.”

“She’s not afraid of anything,” Ollikainen said, adding that her attitude has won over her teammates, as well. “She has a nose for the football.”

She has the respect of her opponents, too. At the beginning of the game, Spangler said she looks like any other player, albeit small for her position.

“I don’t think they noticed at first,” Spangler said. “But at the end of the game, someone said, ‘Good game, girl.’ ”

She did not take it in a condescending way. Just a good game and an acknowledgement that her gender is different from the norm on the football field.

Her mentality is just that of a football player.

“I don’t really think while I’m playing. I read the play and react,” Spangler said. “Even if I get (hurt) in a game, I don’t tell anyone. I don’t want anyone to take me out. I’ll keep playing.”

The plan is to keep playing throughout high school for a special milestone.

“I could brag that I played 10 years of tackle football,” Spangler said.

Then she wants to test her skills with mixed martial arts.

“Honestly, I don’t know if I could do a normal job,” she said.

Her job on the football field is to make tackles. While she is not as big as the linemen who are trying to block her, she uses her knowledge and experience to find the ball carrier.

Of course, even with those years of youth football, Spangler understands that varsity football, at least in a starting role, probably would not be possible at bigger programs. Fort Vancouver, with a new coach, is trying to build a future.

“If I went to any other school, I wouldn’t even get a chance to play, or even a chance to just prove myself,” Spangler said.