Four young women detail negative experiences as members of high school football teams in Title IX trial

(Alex Vejar | The Salt Lake Tribune) Murray High’s Olivia Green makes her way through the defense during a practice of the Utah Girls’ Tackle Football League on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, at the Zions Bank Training Center in Herriman.

Madelyn Calchera has played football long enough to know that unintentional contact is practically inevitable. An accidental brush of a thigh. Accidental touching of her breasts during a blocking exercise.

But what Calchera experienced as a junior on the Hillcrest High team felt different.

Calchera detailed an incident in which a boy on the Hillcrest team allegedly looked her in the eyes, grabbed her breasts and walked away. She described the incident as a sexual assault.

Calchera said she confronted the boy in an effort to seek an explanation. She didn’t get one. She spoke with several administrators at Hillcrest about the incident. Nothing came of it.

Eventually, her mother, Barbara, filed a report with police, which found the boy at fault and asked Calchera if she wanted to press charges. She declined, she said, because she wanted to move on with her life.

“I just wanted an adult to believe me aside from my parents because I felt so alone,” Calchera, now 20, said as her voice started to break. “I just wanted somebody else to say I’m not a liar.”

Calchera is one of four young women who in the last two days have detailed varying degrees of bad experiences while playing on high school football teams. Their testimonies have come during the bench trial that will decide whether two Utah school districts and the Utah High School Activities Association are in violation of Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause by not providing football for girls.

Calchera said she quit the Hillcrest team because of her experience. Her younger sister, Isabela, also played at Hillcrest and said she quit due to what happened to Madelyn Calchera.

Isabela Calchera, now 18, said she didn’t feel welcomed overall on the team, and thought her sister wasn’t welcomed, either.

“There were one or two [teammates] that were welcoming, but there was a lot of unspoken animosity toward me and my sister,” Isabela Calchera said, adding that some teammates would block her and her sister harder than they would the boys.

Isabela Calchera got no playing time on the junior varsity team, she said, relegating her to help pass out water to her teammates. The boys on the team called her “water girl” — a nickname she said she disliked — poured water down her pads, and told her she should quit the team.

She said she went to the head coach with those and other concerns, but felt he was “dismissive” of them.

Isabela Calchera’s personal experience on the team negatively affected her mental health to the point that her grades got worse. She left the team two weeks before the end of the season and later transferred to Alta High.

Isabella Nogales played on the Granger High football team. She transferred there from Hunter because she felt she’d have a better chance to play on the team after a Hunter coach told her she most likely would only be a kicker and wouldn’t get much playing time.

Nogales said that overall, her experience on the Granger team was positive. No one ever discouraged her from playing football, she said, and she even felt a sense of pride as a member on the team.

But Nogales also detailed times where she felt uncomfortable or spurned. She said that as a senior on the varsity team, she played in only two games. One of those games was against a team competing with a sub-varsity team, and other was a Senior Night game, she said. In her mind, she would not have even seen the field if those situations hadn’t materialized.

Nogales said that during weight training sessions, the boys on her team would all stand behind her while she performed squats. That practice made her uncomfortable she said, but she was afraid to mention her feelings to the coach for fear that she would receive even less playing time.

Laura Goetz testified Tuesday about her negative experiences playing football at West Jordan High. Part of her testimony was sealed to reporters due to its nature, but the public portions painted a picture on their own.

Goetz, who played on the sophomore team for two years, said her coach would refer to her as “Princess,” which she found “degrading,” she said. She added that she asked the coach not to use that moniker, but he did not stop.

Goetz, who was a captain on her team, described an incident in which her male teammates in a group chat used crude language to describe women. In another message on the chat, a teammate shared an image of a cat in a sexually suggestive position. Screenshots of the chat were displayed in court.

Because Goetz did not have her own phone, the messages were seen by her mother. She took exception to both messages, saying she felt they were inappropriate and they made her uncomfortable.

Goetz also described several instances in which the terms “brothers” or “brotherhood” were used in regards to the football team. When breaking from team huddles, the team would also say “brotherhood,” she said.

Goetz said whenever those terms were used, she felt left out. In one anecdote, she said “brotherhood” was written on a whiteboard in the team room, which she erased and replaced with “family.” She said “brotherhood” was later put back on the whiteboard and she felt it was done to purposely single her out.

Goetz, who left West Jordan about a month ago due to her experiences on the football team, did say her freshman year was better compared to her sophomore year. But her teammates still gave her a hard time as a freshman.

“It just wasn’t as bad and it was controlled,” Goetz said.

On cross examination, Goetz admitted that the West Jordan athletic director castigated the team about the messages in the group chat. She also said a boy who used a derogatory term to describe her in a social media post was later kicked off the team.