Kicking Down Barriers: Meet the Two Fierce Females on the HBHS Football Team


Jenna Swart

Claire Ballou and Keira Swart, soccer teammates and friends for more than a decade, smile for a photo together on the football field.

Aiden C. Barker

Claire Ballou, a junior at Hollis Brookline High School, and Keira Swart, a homeschooled junior in the Hollis Brookline school district, both joked about playing for the HBHS football team. However, they had little idea that their joke was about to become a reality.

As they left their soccer tryouts one summer day, they learned that they were both named swing players for the varsity soccer team, so their playing time would be limited. With that in mind, Ballou and Swart wanted to find another option. That other option was trying out for the football team.

“We were walking back across the turf and the football team was practicing after us,” Ballou said, “and I just kinda said as a joke, ‘hey the coach is right there, let’s go talk to him.’” They walked over and asked the special teams coach, Alexander Pratt, if the team needed a kicker. “We were laughing, embarrassed, but he was like ‘no seriously we do need a kicker…we’ll set up a tryout for you guys.’”

On the day of tryouts, Ballou remembers how she felt: “Walking down to that practice was very intimidating,” Ballou said, “but the coaches were really nice and as soon as we started kicking, everything felt good.” Their tryout was a success and they were both awarded special team spots as kickers. But is their success easy to accomplish by anyone?

“Neither of us at the beginning of the season would have been better kickers than anyone else who plays soccer,” said Ballou. “Now we’ve practiced a lot so I would hope we’re a little better at it, but the hardest part was just talking to coaches and actually doing it….That’s why we’re the kickers and not someone else because we actually did it.” Their determination was what led them to this position together.

Having played soccer together for almost 11 years across club and school teams, Ballou and Swart have developed a strong relationship.

“I don’t think I would have initially tried out without having Claire there,” said Swart.

“Although Keira is one of my best friends, we normally don’t see each other much outside of the soccer season,” Ballou added. “It was a big jump transitioning to being on the football team where we were the only kickers, and therefore spent almost three hours every day together…. She has seen me at my worst and always knows how to make me feel good about myself.” Swart also added that at the beginning of the season, the two of them would watch YouTube videos on kicking, another perk of playing football with your best friend.

Being the only two girls on an all-male team can be daunting at first, but Ballou and Swart see it a bit differently.

“At that first tryout I was very nervous about how I would do, how I would be perceived,” Ballou explained, “but the coaches and everyone on the team have been amazing. We have good relationships with the players. No one says anything derogatory.”

“Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like a male-dominant sport when I play even though it is,” added Swart. The first week of practice, Ballou wasn’t able to go, so Swart went to one week of practice and one game all by herself. “And I was really intimidated by it at first,” said Swart, “…but then it got to the game and one of the players said ‘oh come sit with me’ and I was like ‘oh wait a second, I’m part of the team now’….It felt good that I was being accepted.”

Now Swart feels like part of a family, where her male teammates are like a bunch of her brothers who tease her with the things that bug her. “They have all of these little jokes,” Swart stated. “I come off the field and the thing I hate the most is when they smack me on the helmet, and now they love to do that because they know I don’t like it.”

Coach Pratt also shared his thoughts on Swart and Ballou becoming a part of the team: “These girls showed the younger players what makes a good teammate,” he said. “There were practices that these two girls had to stay busy and self-motivated and they were always the first ones on the field and usually the last ones off.”

Of course having a significant role on any sports team, such as a kicker, comes with a lot of pressure. When asked how they stay calm under pressure, Ballou said, “I take a second, take a deep breath, collect myself. I like to visualize what I want to happen and not think about [something going wrong]…I try to focus on envisioning my ideal outcome.” Swart has a similar strategy: “Remember the basics…then you sort of forget everything [else] and you try and kick it.”

As for superstitions, Swart says wearing double socks every game is a must: “I have to wear double socks in a game…a pair of short ones and a pair of long ones, or else something’s off.” Short ones go on first, she explained, long ones on top, and they have to be the same color.

For Ballou, her run-up routine must be the same every time. When she starts her run-up, she always sets with her left leg back, shakes out her right leg, then clicks her ankle and sets her foot. Kicking has come a lot more naturally to Ballou as the season progressed, to the point where she can tell if a kick is going in as soon as she starts her run-up.

Swart experiences the same thing now as well. “You’ll kick the ball and in practice the coaches will be like ‘oh, oh!’ and you’ll be like ‘it’s not going to go in,’” she said.

Both Ballou and Swart never eat too close to a game, but after a game, they indulge. Ballou enjoys the pizza that parents bring, while Swart claims that “fried chicken is the best.” For candy, Swart prefers Sour Patch Kids, especially the watermelon ones, while Ballou enjoys Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Ballou and Swart have had an impact on their team ever since their first practice. When asked about the advantage of having both of them on the team, Coach Pratt replied, “They were at practice every day perfecting the kicks we asked them to perform and by the end of the season they were doing these kicks on demand. We usually have kids who want to be kickers but don’t want to put the time in; these girls showed that you can do whatever you put your mind to.”

Ballou and Swart are truly proving that determination pays off, especially for a male-dominant sport like football. “If you want to do it, it never hurts to try to do something…you’re really capable of doing more than you thought,” said Swart. “Last year I didn’t even think I was going to be playing high school football.”

“Don’t feel like you are capable of anything less than everyone else on that team,” said Ballou. “Don’t be intimidated because they’re bigger, they’re stronger, they’re going to tackle me, whatever. Don’t think of gender as a handicap, just do as much as you’re capable of doing and give it your all.”

Now that the football season is over and the girls are looking ahead to their senior year, we wonder if the dynamic duo will make a return. We might already have our answer, as Ballou left us with the philosophy she and Swart share: “Why not?”