Eckert hopes to lead others to break barriers

Photos by Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
Forest Park’s Abby Eckert kicks an extra point during the first half of Friday’s 48-7 loss to Southridge. Eckert is the only female playing for a football team in Dubois County but she’s the third female kicker that the Rangers have had in their history, following in the footsteps of Madisyn Hunt and Gina Bettag.

By JONATHAN SAXON
jsaxon@dcherald.com

FERDINAND — During her sophomore year in school, Abby Eckert found herself in the physical education class of Forest Park football coach Ross Fuhs.

Eckert only played soccer at the time and got to talking with Fuhs and joking with him about coming out to kick for the football. She might not have been real serious, but Fuhs was when he extended to her the chance to come out to practice and show off what she had.

“Toward the end of sophomore year he had known I play for the soccer team, he knew I had a foot,” Eckert said. “I had said something to him joking about it, and he just said ‘Why don’t you come out and practice?’ And I said okay.”

“I take anybody serious who’s interested in playing,” said Fuhs. “She was just joking around, and I said that would be great, come out and try it.”

So last season before their game against the Tell City Marksmen (whom they defeated 40-36) Eckert came out, strapped on the pads, and started taking kicks for the Rangers. Fuhs was impressed not only by the spunk she displayed in following through on her word, but also with her effort and talent for kicking on the football field.

“She came out and did a really nice job,” he said. “Unfortunately it was right before our last game, so she didn’t have quite enough practices in to get in there.”

But that was okay because it was simply the start of something new for Eckert.

She would use the summer to workout and practice her kicking more and now as a junior she is a full fledged member of the team, ready to go out and split the uprights whenever her number is called upon.

“This summer they had skills night every Wednesday, so I would just go to that and kick,” she said. “I wasn’t that bad. It got different when they started wearing the pads, I’m not used to doing any of that. Then I just started coming to practice.”

Eckert, who still plays for the girls soccer team, thought it would be a little awkward in the beginning with her being the only girl on the team.

But, she said that the players quickly took her in and accepted her and have made her feel like just another one of the guys.

Abby Eckert, left, and teammate Ryan Burke watch their team play from the sidelines during the second half of the game last Friday against Southridge. Eckert originally joked to Forest Park football coach Ross Fuhs about coming out to practice but Fuhs was serious when he extended an offer to her to show off her skills at one of the team’s practice sessions last season.

“The boys have handled it pretty well,” she said. “They’re all nice to me, we all talk. At first it was a little weird, but everybody just got used to it. The only weird part now is whenever we go to away games I can’t go into the locker rooms. So I have to wait until they’re all done before I can go in there. That’s the only thing that’s weird anymore.”

“The guys have been really receptive to her,” added Fuhs. “She gets right in there and fits right in with them.”

Eckert is diligent in fulfilling her kicking duties, as she has worked out a schedule to practice her extra point kicks and field goals either in the beginning or toward the end of football practice, depending when she gets finished working with the soccer team. But over the course of the season’s first two weeks, Eckert didn’t get a chance to show off her stuff as Forest Park struggled to get into scoring positions against Gibson Southern and Perry Central.

But she finally got to make her season debut against the Southridge Raiders last week. Even though the Rangers fell 48-7, Eckert finally got her opportunity to put one through the uprights after junior running back Drew Day scored a 5-yard touchdown near the end of the first quarter

While Eckert isn’t the first girl to ever kick for Forest Park’s football team (Madisyn Hunt and Gina Bettag are the two others who had the opportunity to kick for the Rangers) she still realizes how unique her situation is and wouldn’t mind becoming the catalyst for other girls to come out and show what they have on the football field, kicking or otherwise.

“I would say just try it,” said Eckert when asked about what she would say to any girls that may be curious about trying out for the football team. “I would just tell them to try it because you won’t know if you like it until you actually come out and try it.”

For his part, Fuhs will take all comers if he thinks they can help out the Rangers on the field if they’re willing to work for it like Eckert.

“Just like in Abby’s case, she is more than willing to come out, work hard, and puts in the time,” he said. “If somebody does that I think they should be accepted and be able to play. We’re always welcome to have them if they want to come out.”




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