Ruth Ingebrand, an assistant football coach at Columbia River High, takes time every game day to scan the opposing sideline looking for something.
Or rather, someone.
“I’m looking for women,” she said.
So far, Ingebrand has had no luck in her quest to coach opposite another high school female assistant. That’ll change, though, on Oct. 27 when Columbia River and Hudson’s Bay face off in a 2A Greater St. Helens League football game at River’s John O’Rourke Field. Both programs employ female assistant coaches — Ingebrand in her first season at River and Kelley Dyer, a second-year assistant at Bay. Both coaches oversee linebackers.
Throughout the 2023 season, the women have grown to count on each other for encouragement and support after first meeting over the summer at 7 on 7 events. They know gender stereotypes still exist surrounding women in football, but continue to fight for why women belong at all levels of the game.
“This is a man’s sport,” Dyer said. “As a woman, you just have to come in ready to make an impact. You just have to come in — balls to the wall, go straight in head first and know what you’re talking about.”
Ingebrand and Dyer do, and the impact has been instant at both programs.
Kelley Dyer, Hudson’s Bay
Dyer is believed to be the first female assistant coach at a high school football program in Clark County. Second-year Bay head coach Mark Oliverio brought Dyer on staff in 2022 in large part because of defensive coordinator Ray Lions’ recommendation. That’s because Dyer’s work in youth football spoke volumes.
She was the head coach of the Vancouver Pop Warner Warriors for 10 seasons, which included six undefeated seasons and a 29-game winning streak at one point. She’s never played a down of football, but her background in basketball, softball, track and field, and volleyball made for an easy transition to coaching football, she said.
“I’m an athlete through and through,” Dyer said, “So teaching a position, or teaching even a three-point stance or a backpedal or anything fundamental, I naturally have that because I am an athlete.”
While Dyer never envisioned leaving Pop Warner at first — “I loved the kids and I loved that program,” she said — but added the idea of moving up to coach high school came quickly. Hudson’s Bay’s football program often visited her Pop Warner team’s practices and games, and being part of a high school staff became Dyer’s go-to goal.
“I knew I could do it,” she said. “It’s just a different level (of football).”
Dyer’s credibility made for instant respect by coaches and players at Bay. Senior outside linebacker August DeGagne said what he appreciates about Dyer is going beyond Xs and Os.
“She’s a really good coach at going past the football level and knowing you more personally,” DeGagne said. “Out of all the coaches, I can rely on her the most to help with what I need.
She’s a great person, but then on the field, she’s about business, too.”
No surprise, Dyer’s coaching philosophy starts with building strong coach-player relationships and connections on a “life level.”
“I’m a teacher of life and a mentor before I’m a teacher of football,” she said, “and I think that helps them thrive.”
Ruth Ingebrand, Columbia River
Whether it’s every day drills, scout-team work or teaching breathing techniques to her linebackers, Ingebrand makes sure her voice is heard.
“Backers,” Ingebrand shouted during a practice last week ahead of River’s 26-20 win over Woodland, “be in a ready position. I don’t want to see straight legs.”
Ingebrand attempted to play high school football growing up in Kansas City, Missouri, but didn’t get an opportunity. Her athletic background includes boxing and mixed martial arts. More recently, she coached sixth- and seventh-grade flag football at Vancouver’s McLoughlin Middle School.
Why she chose to get into coaching tackle football goes beyond her, she said.
“For me, I was taking back that power,” she said, “but my goal has always been to just take up more space for women in sports, so that when girls come around and they see me, they know this is an opportunity that they can have.
“Breaking a glass ceiling really hurts, but then it just makes you stronger.”
First-year River head coach DeWayne Patterson’s familiarity with females in football goes back two decades. At Redlands (Calif.) High School in the early 2000s, his team’s starting quarterback was childhood friend Sami Grisafe, the first female to start at the position in a varsity football game sanctioned by the California Interscholastic Federation. She later became a trailblazer in women’s professional football.
Patterson said what Ingebrand brings to the staff is a unique perspective because of her background in the ring. That can be a plus in football — from toughness to technique.
“She took on a big role,” Patterson said. “She’s brought in different techniques from boxing into the football world. That’s helped us.”
Ingebrand admits there’s been a continuous learning curve, but also steady growth. Not only in the players she coaches, but also her growth as a high school football coach.
Just like her fighter’s background, the coach and players are continuously in a ready position.
“Being a defensive coach to me is protecting your team,” Ingebrand said. “You’re working together, you’re protecting the score, you’re getting the ball back and through that passion and that purpose is going to drive the boys forward and has driven me forward.”