Here's a hint for football players who line up opposite No. 87 on the varsity New Westminster Hyacks football team: Fear the ponytail.
No. 87 is 5-7, 170 pound Shelby Mattin, the first girl to play for the Hyacks, having been in the football program for the last five years.
Mattin ties up her long blond hair for practice and games - "It sucks when your hair is pulled," she says - and other than the pink-and-white receiver gloves, there's little evidence she's a girl fighting off blocks or heading out into the flat for a pass.
Mattin's a back-up tight end and linebacker, but you wouldn't know it by the company she keeps. She counts among her best friends on the team leaders such as Jordan Chin, Jonathan He and Arjun Venkatesh and fellow tight end Greg Johnston.
And one of her mentors is former Hyack standout Jamie Wandell, who has encouraged Mattin and helped her get better.
But if anybody is responsible for Mattin's continuing presence on the football team, it's Mattin herself, who has overcome a myriad of obstacles to
suit up for the Hyacks.
"I remember signing up for community football when I was in Grade 7 at Glenbrook," said the 16-year-old. "I was supposed to join with a couple of other girls, but I was the only one who did."
Mattin, who also plays rugby and used to be a sprinter in track events, remembers how tough playing football in Grade 8 was.
"None of the guys wanted anything to do with me," she said. "It wasn't until late in my Grade 9 year that I think they started to accept me." er first practice in Grade 8 was something she won't forget.
H "I was lined up against one of the guys and he said 'Are you a chick?' I said 'Yeah,' and he just turned around and laughed. - That really sucked."
But instead of taking offence, Mattin took matters into her own hands, asking her coach if she could do a tackling drill with that boy.
"I got a really good hit on him," she said. "That felt really good."
That moment of triumph was a bright moment in an otherwise tough year for Mattin, who still has to change in the upstairs press box while her teammates get dressed downstairs at Mercer Stadium.
It got so bad for Mattin that after her Grade 8 year, she talked to her mother, Kristy Abbott, about wanting to quit.
"She told me I'd probably regret it if I quit," said Mattin. "And she was right, because in Grade 9, a lot of the guys realized I was here to stay, I would continue working towards being part of the team, and I was like them in that I just wanted to become a better football player."
Taking Mattin under his wing was Wandell, who knew of Mattin because he was dating Shelby's sister.
"He's like a big brother to me," said Mattin. "He's always encouraged me and he's helped me a lot, both on the field and being somebody I could talk to."
Wandell's sister Gina is currently one of the managers of the varsity Hyacks and counts Mattin as a friend.
"I think it's awesome that she's playing and stayed with football," said Gina, who's known Mattin since they were in Grade 6. "She's going against guys two times her size, and she's holding her own."
As her teammates accepted her, that doesn't mean others did.
Mattin tells the story of another low point, the fourth game of her Grade 10 year.
"We weren't very good that year, and we're on the road and losing badly," she said. "One of the guys on the other team takes off his helmet and it wasn't even subtle what he said and did," she said. "That really sucked. - And it came at such a bad time. We were doing so badly that season and it just made me think, why am I putting up with all this crap?"
What brought Mattin back to reality was a post-game speech by Chin.
"Jordan gets up and tells us that it was probably as bad as it could get and since we're all in this together, it can only get better. - After hearing that speech, I just wanted to go and play again," she said.
Chin said he remembers giving that speech, but he didn't know the profound effect it had on Mattin.
"She's a part of our football family, and we treat her like one of us because she's earned that," said Chin. "It took some time for us to adjust to her as a teammate, but we respect the work she's done and she's here to play football just like the rest of us. We have to stick together if we want to succeed as a team, and Shelby's a part of this team." oward Rahn has coached Mattin for parts of her five years in the program.
team." Howard Rahn has coached Mattin for parts of her five years in the program. "It's been awesome for the program and awesome to have her in the program because it shows other girls that if they want to play, they can," said Rahn. "Her strengths, well, she's tough-minded, she's so tough-minded. She's willing to work, and she has a quiet confidence about her."
But on the negative side, Mattin is like any other highschool kid.
"Shelby has to work harder sometimes," said Rahn. "We have to tell you that she can't get lazy and she has to continue trying to get better. - The good thing is I think the guys have accepted her, and they won't let her get lazy. She's earned their respect and that sometimes means they give her a hard time like guys like to do."
Mattin can be excused for sometimes being a bit tired, because after growing up in the Royal City and attending Richard McBride Elementary and Glenbrook Middle School, she's now living in Delta and has an hour-long transit commute each day for school and football.
John Chan is a lineman who has grown to like Mattin, not only as a teammate, but because Shelby has been such an inspiration that Chan's younger sister Elizabeth has started playing linebacker for the junior bantam Hyacks.
"It was great to have Shelby playing because when my sister wanted to play, my parents saw Shelby doing it and realized that (Elizabeth) could do it too," said Chan.
Chan admits that he will give Mattin a hard time in practice, but it's done out of love and respect.
"We treat her like one of the guys," he said. "And I know if other teams pick on her or someone is really causing her a problem, I'd step up for her. - She's proven that she's a part of our team and I'm proud of what she's done." attin takes the compliments in stride, saying she's enjoying her final season as any senior would.
done." Mattin takes the compliments in stride, saying enjoying her final season as any senior would "On the first day of school, I was walking
around with my football jacket, and I could see the respect that came with it," she said. "Most people know I've earned the right to wear that jacket."
Mattin hopes to become a physiotherapist and plans to go to Douglas College after Grade 12 to get her grades up for a transfer to UBC.
Gina couldn't be happier for her friend. "I love these guys to death, but I love having her on the team. She's an inspiration to other girls. - Plus, when we're on the road, we can talk chick stuff, what we're looking for when we go shopping and what we're listening to (She admits that Justin Bieber is a guilty pleasure for both of them). - She's done so much for the program and maybe some day, in the future, there will be even more girls playing football."
Larry Wright/ THE RECORD