Wendy Alexander/The madera Tribune
Under the watchful eye of Madera Coyotes football special teams coach Russ Stanford, Brisa Meza gets a kick off during the team’s scrimmage.
In 1985, Shaylene Leinbach became the first female to play football at Madera High School. More than 30 years later years later, varsity kicker Brisa Meza is following in her footsteps.
“Just keep focused,” Leinbach said. “Don’t let anyone discourage you, just go for it everyday. If you give your best, you won’t have any regrets.”
Meza’s point after on Madera’s lone touchdown in last week’s win over Hanford proved to be the difference in the 7-6 game. This season, Meza has made five extra points and also hit a 33-yard field goal in Madera’s win over Mission Oak.
“What I love most about playing football is being under those Friday night lights with my team,” Meza said. “That’s my favorite part of it all.”
Meza was in action Friday night when the Coyotes hosted the Merced Bears in the “Governor’s Hat” game in Memorial Stadium.
Meza, 15, was born in Chowchilla, but later moved to Madera when she was in second grade. Coming from a big family, Meza had many influences in her life.
Her parents along with her brothers and cousins provided her an upbringing some girls aren’t accustomed to.
“She grew up around a lot of boys,” Brisa’s brother Ricardo Meza, 23, said. “I think there was about 15 of us between cousins and stuff too and about maybe five girls. She was just a tough girl. I’m not surprised where she is.”
Meza is always open to try new things, her brother said, part of what makes her unique.
“I remember I taught her how to weld,” Meza said. “She watched me and learned, then took a few classes. She’s just open to new things.”
Brisa was first introduced to soccer when she was in grade school and with her family background in the sport, naturally, she took to it.
Meza thought about playing football, but never really envisioned herself playing, but now that she’s on the team, she’s still getting used to the boy-dominant sport.
Leinbach, 47, faced similar obstacles, mainly the unwanted attention.
“The biggest thing was resentment from a lot of the guys,” Leinbach said. “Some guys thought it was disruptive to the team and that things were focused on me.
“When boys are brought up, they aren’t allowed to hit girls so it was hard for them.”
For Meza, just changing into her gear was an obstacle.
“It was kind of different, at first,” Meza said. “With having to change in a different area and things like that, but the team is always nice and encouraging.”
On the field though, there isn’t much worry, her brother said.
“We take a risk everyday walking out the front door,” Ricardo said. “I’m excited for her when she’s out there and, after the game, I encourage her and let her know how she did.”
Meza has had her ups and downs on the field but with head coach Yosef Fares’ encouragement, things became easier.
Meza said his words allow her to forget about the last kick or play and move forward. Having a short-term memory is key, especially for a kicker.
Although Meza still has a few years left in high school, she’s set her sights on maybe getting a scholarship.
The challenge of earning a spot on a college team continues to motivate Meza, but it’s the love of the game that fuels her just like it did for Leinbach years ago.
“I love being around my (football) brothers during practices, film, before games, creating memories, and being able to say I’m one of them,” Meza said.