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Lisa Glascock says she doesn’t remember a lot about life as an 8-year-old. She still recalls, however, how much she liked playing football. Memories of the ridiculous lengths to which some grown-ups went to keep her out of the game also endure.
“They told my parents I couldn’t play because I was missing some body parts,” says Glascock, now 32. “I think my parents were embarrassed to tell me which parts.”
Believe it or not, back in the fall of 1977, recreation officials in Arlington actually told the Glascocks that a “Missing Parts Rule,” which banned players lacking a limb or a testicle from playing ball, was on the books. Furthermore, that rule would be invoked if their daughter ever tried to get on a football field.
Lisa’s limbs, as the officials knew when they came up with the rule, were all in place.
Women’s football is hardly ubiquitous, but it’s come a long way, baby. The Women’s Professional Football League, glorified in the documentary True-Hearted Vixens, recently launched a bid to round up investors for a Washington-area expansion franchise. That would make for the second female pro team in town, the other being the D.C. Divas of the National Women’s Football League.
However big the distaff version of the game gets, the role Glascock played in its development deserves a historical footnote. In the late ’70s, there were no all-women’s leagues around here. And girls, no matter how able-bodied, weren’t allowed to play with the boys. Glascock is recognized as the first local female player to even try to suit up. She now swears she never wanted to be a pioneer—at 8, she didn’t even know what being a pioneer meant. She just wanted to play ball.
The good guys and bad guys in the Glascock tale are as clearly defined as in a Disney cartoon. The no-goodnicks, who all came from the Arlington County Parks and Recreation Department, showed their cards in early September 1977.
A week before the football season started that year, county officials had gotten word that a young girl had signed up with the Black Knights, a 70-pound team in the ankle-biter league. They didn’t know exactly why girls couldn’t play football in Arlington. But they were determined not to let it happen on their watch.
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Funny thing was, not all the bad guys were guys. At the time, Arlington was ahead of the curve as far as giving women job opportunities in recreation. Arlington’s Parks and Recreation Department, which oversaw all the youth athletic leagues, was headed up by Constance McAdam, making it one of only two counties in the state with a woman in charge. But even to McAdam, letting a girl suit up seemed radical.
“It was unheard of that girls would play football,” says McAdam, now retired but still living in Arlington. “At the time, for us, it was a no-brainer: Girls can’t play football with boys.”
A Parks and Recreation staffer called up Glascock’s coach, a feisty fellow named Sam Fox, to inform him that girls don’t play football in Arlington. Fox found that plainly unfair. He had known Lisa from her participation in other sports and saw she was as tough and determined and eager as anybody in her age group, gender notwithstanding. Her experience playing sandlot football almost every day, against either neighborhood kids in the park beside the south Arlington apartment complex where she grew up or her older brother in the living room of her family home—games in which the couch doubled as the end zone—had left Lisa as ready for action as any other kid on the Black Knights roster.
“When the county said I couldn’t play Lisa, she’d already spent a month practicing with the team, and she could hit as hard as the boys,” remembers Fox, who is now in his 35th year of coaching youth sports in the county. “This was a simple deal to me. Lisa was just a child who loved to play a sport, so why shouldn’t she?”
Fox, with the support of Glascock’s parents, told the county that he saw no basis for keeping Lisa off the field. That’s when the Missing Parts Rule suddenly surfaced.
“Anything to get the angle in an argument, right?” says McAdam, with some self-deprecating laughter, when asked about her department’s bizarre ruling. “‘Missing parts’? I mean, how stupid could we have been? I’m not sure where that came from, but—oh, dear!—I hope that rule has been erased. I know we’ve come a long way since then.”
Though Lisa lacked the testicles that were suddenly required by the county, Fox wasn’t swayed by the Missing Parts Rule. That stance was not without personal risk—to Fox, not Lisa. At the time, he was working as a field maintenance supervisor for the county Department of Parks and Recreation—a job he still holds—so an act of insubordination could have cost him his job.
But, just as a coach in a Disney movie would, Fox boldly disregarded his job-security concerns and left it up to his young team whether Lisa should be allowed to suit up. To the Black Knights, that decision was a no-brainer, also.
“My teammates all agreed that we play with everybody, or we don’t play at all,” says Glascock. “That was nice.”
On opening day at Bluemont Park, the field was set for battle. Fox, following his conscience and the directive of his young charges, let Lisa dress for the game.
In the second half, he noticed that county Sports Supervisor Larry Hale, the guy who had personally informed him of the Missing Parts Rule, had suddenly appeared on the sideline with another staffer from the Parks and Recreation Department. Fox immediately sent Lisa into the huddle. Seeing that, Hale walked onto the field with a member of his staff and had his underling grab the football and, just as a Disney no-goodnick would, wave the pigskin high over his head, where the little 70-pounders couldn’t grab it. Hale then loudly announced, “This game is over!”
As Hale walked off the gridiron, he told Fox he was suspended from coaching until further notice and to come to his office on Monday for a meeting to discuss his status with the county.
Hale, who still lives in Arlington, is far less embarrassed and apologetic about the Glascock incident than McAdam. “We had liability issues and such that needed to be answered before we could let Lisa play,” he says. “I told Sam not to play her and that if he did I would stop the game. But he did. So I did.”
Before showing up to his Monday meeting, Fox, sensing that the stakes had gotten pretty high, hired an attorney. And with the lawyer present, the county’s Missing Parts Rule suddenly became null and void.
It hasn’t been invoked since.
“I went into that meeting thinking they were going to try to stop me from coaching anymore,” Fox says. “I wasn’t scared, though, because I knew I had right on my side. And after my lawyer talked for a couple minutes, my suspension went from indefinite to the rest of the season, then to three games. Before we left the room they told me I was reinstated for next Saturday’s game.”
And Lisa Glascock had permission to play with the Black Knights.
“I know we didn’t win many games that year,” says Fox. “But the season was memorable for other reasons.”
After three seasons with the Black Knights, Lisa’s football career ended. The decision to give up the game at age 10 was hers.
“I always thought Lisa was cool for playing football,” says older brother Allan Glascock, now a
special-education teacher at Wakefield High School in Arlington. “I knew she was tough enough to play—I probably toughened her up a little too much tackling her in the living room. But the older I get, the more proud I am of her.” He recently discussed his sister’s Black Knights stint with a class at Wakefield for a lesson on Title IX, the federal equal-opportunity act that has led to so many advances in women’s athletics. The students, too, thought Lisa was cool.
Lisa Glascock now works for Arlington County, as assistant supervisor of a recreation program for preschool and elementary-age children. She says she’s too close to the situation to judge what long-term impact, if any, her role as a football trailblazer had on her. She admits that occasionally she catches herself envying the youngsters as she watches them run around the playground with the same abandon she flashed at their age.
“They’re out there playing games, laughing, having fun, like I always did,” she says. “I really love my job, but, sometimes, I think I’d like to be a kid again.” Every year, Glascock says, a few girls in her program say they want to play football with the boys. She lets them. —Dave McKenna