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How this stigma-defying young woman started the first all-girls tackle football league.

These players are changing what it means to throw "like a girl."

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DICK'S Sporting Goods

At 9 years old, Sam Gordon learned the hard way that being the best didn’t always mean getting picked first.

She was fast and agile, beating every single boy at her first ever tryouts for tackle football. She exceeded her dad’s already high expectations. He knew Sam was a gifted athlete, but seeing just how gifted she was blew him away.

Rather than being first pick in the draft, Sam was put onto the seventh of nine teams. Around 80 boys who were slower and not as agile were picked before her.


freshman year here we come!

A post shared by Sam Gordon (@sam_gordon6) on

“I had to explain to her, a 9-year-old, ‘Sam, because you’re a girl, you are going to have more obstacles to success than if you were a boy,” says Sam’s father, Brent Gordon.

But rather than be discouraged, Sam didn’t let that unfairness hold her back.

“I decided to prove the coaches wrong,” Sam says, now 14 and a freshman in high school.

And that’s just what she did: All season long, she used her small size and speed to weave in and out of holes in the defense, taking hits and making hits as she went.

That season — her first season of playing tackle football with an entire league of boys — she scored 35 touchdowns, rushed nearly 2,000 yards, and made 65 tackles.

Her father made a video reel of Sam’s highlights from the season — and the video went viral.

Finally everyone saw the talented football player she was.

Sam was put on a Wheaties box, invited to the Super Bowl, and even went on a variety of talk shows.

While she was never afraid to tackle and play as the lone girl on a team, other girls were, which meant they never got the chance to play tackle football because, if they wanted to, they had to join a boys team. Even after Sam’s video went viral, parents were still nervous about putting their daughters in a boys football league.

That’s why Crystal Sacco, a former football player, reached out to Brent with the proposal of starting a girls tackle football league.

At first, Brent wasn’t sure there would be enough girls to start the league. But his worries soon vanished. Sam was asked to speak at a middle school about how she plays football and she asked the assembly room if any girls wanted to join her.

“I’m not kidding, every single girl’s hand shot up,” says Brent. He called Sacco the next day. Soon after, Sacco and Brent set up all the necessary measures to begin opening up the sport for girls who always wanted to play.

The Utah Girls Tackle Football League had their first season in 2014. Within one week, 50 girls signed up.

And the number of sign-ups doubles each year. They’re currently going into their fourth season, and they might have as many as 400 players.

The best part is, prior experience doesn’t seem to factor into who succeeds on the team.

“Around 80% of the girls have no experience playing football,” says Sacco, but that’s OK because they’re taught from the ground up. “When they put on those pads and helmets, they just emotionally fit into it.” She wanted to show these girls, ones who weren’t the most confident in themselves, that “strong is OK.”

Despite the majority of the girls not having experience, competition on the field didn’t take long to become fierce, says Sam. “It’s tough out there,” she says. “And everybody is super passionate about it.”

“At the first game, one of the referees came back to me and said, ‘You guys have more fans in attendance than we see at high school sophomore games,’” says Brent.

The league was a clear hit with girls and parents alike.

“One of the best things about starting up this league is that I will get, almost on a weekly basis, either a text message or email from a parent that signed up their daughter for football tell[ing] me how big of an impact playing football has had on their daughter’s self-esteem, confidence, mood — attitude in general,” he says.

In their town of Herriman, Utah, football is everything. Boys in the town start playing at age 8. “Now girls have this [same] opportunity,” says Sam.

First ever girls high school football state champs! Go Mustangs!🏈

A post shared by Sam Gordon (@sam_gordon6) on

The Utah Girls Tackle Football League may have been the first of its kind, but it definitely won't be the last.

Small leagues have popped up in other states like Indiana and Georgia. Even the NFL recognized the influence, naming Sam as the first ever winner of the Game Changer Award at this year’s NFL Honors.

Girls finally have their own space to compete in football, a place where they can get into the sport while breaking down bias of what it means to “play like a girl.” They’re proving that they can be just as good, if not better, than the boys. It’s about more than having the chance to play the game, it’s about continuing a legacy of strong women who reclaim and open up new spaces for future generations of women in sports.

This story was produced as part of a campaign called "17 Days" with DICK'S Sporting Goods. These stories aim to shine a light on real occurrences of sports bringing people together.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

That first car is a rite of passage into adulthood. Specifically, the hard-earned lesson of expectations versus reality. Though some of us are blessed with Teslas at 17, most teenagers receive a car that’s been … let’s say previously loved. And that’s probably a good thing, considering nearly half of first-year drivers end up in wrecks. Might as well get the dings on the lemon, right?

Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

Here are 22 responses with the most horsepower:

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Every mom has made a face like that.


In a video recently released by The Dodo—the beloved source of all sweet animal things—a female raccoon is spotted peeking her little eyes and paws from inside a public trash bin.

It’s the kind with a top lid, making it her private cave. Meaning anyone who comes close is a trespasser. She aggressively swipes at anyone who dares approach.

The man taking the video is a professional animal rehabilitator of some sort and clearly knows what’s up. He’s seen warning passersby to “don’t go near there! There’s a raccoon in there!”

Despite the handler’s smooth talking and gentle maneuvering, Miss Raccoon is not happy as she wriggles and screeches. But still, she is successfully removed from her post.

And then, small chirps continue from the bin…

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"Veteran" mom and "new" mom parent differently.

When a couple has their first child, they start out with the greatest of intentions and expectations. The child will only eat organic food. They will never watch TV or have screen time and will always stay clean.

But soon, reality sets in and if they have more kids, they'll probably be raised with a lot less attention. As a result, first-born kids turn out a bit differently than their younger siblings.

"Rules are a bit more rigid, attention and validation is directed and somewhat excessive," Niro Feliciano, LCSW, a psychotherapist and anxiety specialist, told Parents. "As a result, firstborns tend to be leaders, high achievers, people-pleasing, rule-following and conscientious, several of the qualities that tend to predict success."

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