Howard breaking barriers:  Pershing High girl competing with boys on gridiron

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    moniquehowardCharles Spann, Detroit Pershing High football coach, was recently named the 2011 week one recipient of the High School Coach of the Week Program, presented by the Michigan Army National Guard and the Detroit Lions.
        His recognition was well deserved considering he has an over 40 -ear career as a coach in the Detroit Public School League (PSL). In his second season as head coach at Pershing and carrying a noteworthy 143-95 record, Spann is more surprised than anyone with having a girl (Monique Howard) start at tackle for his football team.
        “I’ve been coaching for over 40 years and I never dreamed of anything like this,” Spann said. “I wondered at first if she could handle the workouts and drills. Without question she has surprised me with her determination. She is the best we have at that position. One thing for sure is she has heart. Half of the guys that came out for the team have gone home already.”
        In Pershing’s first game of the season versus a very good Renaissance squad, Howard, 6-foot, 190 pounds, started on the offensive line. She played the entire game in Pershing’s 18-12 overtime victory over Renaissance.
        “I went out and watched her practice and the first game” said Shawn Hill, Howard’s basketball coach. “She was pushing the sledge and running all the drills. So when I saw her out there in the first game playing every down in an intense game, I was not surprised. She is an aggressive kid, but best of all, she is smart.”
        How did Howard find herself on the football field in the first place?
        Hill said Mike Youngblood, her softball coach, planted the seed in her head that she should give football a shot.
        “When she came to me with this idea,” Hill recalled, “I told her whatever she put her mind to she could achieve. Sure there were a lot of people  who told me I should not let her play. Right before football season she came to me again and I told her to go ahead, but I also told her once she got out there that she cannot quit.”
         Said Howard: “Coaches Youngblood and Hill agreed that this would make me tough and mentally strong if I really committed myself to it. I was nervous at first because I did not know what to expect.”
        The fact of the matter is that generally boys are bigger and stronger than girls. It is the way of nature, but the 3.3 GPA, 16-year-old Howard is a renaissance woman.
        “I’m a little surprised I’ve competed this well,” Howard said, “because I know that generally speaking boys are stronger than girls. People kept telling me that I might get hurt, but my coaches told me if I learn the drills I could compete. So I’ve worked on getting off the ball, my footwork, quickness and my technique. The fact of the matter is I like football and I like to hit. Also we have one of the best basketball teams in the state and I think that this experience will help me as a basketball player.”
        Concurred Hill: “I think this will make her an even better basketball player. We have a number of scorers, but rebounding will be the key. If she takes that aggressiveness and use it on the basketball court we will be hard to beat.”
        Looking over the Internet there were stories about Howard in India, England, Japan and all over the United States. The recognition has taken the humble Howard by surprise.
        “I started this because I like sports and challenges,” she said, “but I never expected that people would be this interested in what I was doing. I’m enjoying it all though, but it is really about the team and us winning.”
        Pershing has returned to a basketball power in both girls and boys teams, but Spann is in the midst of a football revival.
        “Sure we are better than we have been,” he said, “but time will tell how it all plays out. We have to continue to get better on both sides of the ball and stay healthy.”


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