The Burlington High School (BHS) girls soccer team is used to buzz. They have played fiercely this year, being nearly undefeated the first half of the season and going into this week’s playoffs seeded fourth in Division I. Many students show up to watch them play, filling the stands even in their regular season.
It is no question the team has skill when it comes to soccer, but a whirlwind of events has occurred in the past week that shows they also have skills off the field.
Inspired by the United States Women’s national soccer team, some members of the BHS team wanted to make shirts for the team to wear on a game day. The idea eventually grew into custom jerseys made by Nike, embroidered with the slogan “#equalpay”. They began selling their shirts online, targeted towards members of the Burlington community.
This story made its way around local media, with coverage by the Burlington Free Press, VT Digger, and even NBC Boston.
At last Thursday’s game against Colchester High School, the team invited anyone who had bought the custom jerseys to come and wear them. They wore their own underneath their regular jerseys, hoping to lift them up in the event of a goal. When captain Helen Worden scored the first goal of the game, some members of the team got caught up in the moment and completely removed their regular jerseys. The referees stopped the game, calling for the four athletes that removed their jerseys to be given a yellow card.
After the penalty, the team was pushed into the spotlight with coverage by Good Morning America, CNN, USA Today, and NBC News.
“Looking back at it, none of us could have expected this. It all has happened so fast, especially in the past 48 hours with Good Morning America,” senior player Chloe DeBedout said. “That really was a huge shock for everybody when we got that text.”
The story has also been swiftly making its way around Twitter. Senator Patrick Leahy, former United States Olympic soccer players Brandi Chastain and Mia Hamm, and former professional tennis player and current women’s rights activist Billie Jean King all expressed their support.
“Cheers to this VT varsity soccer team for showing their support for #equalpay,” King wrote on Twitter. “A great first step toward a sustainable future for ALL women’s sports, & limitless careers for women in athletics. Bold, gutsy & brave. No risk, no reward!”
“I just expected a little bit [of support] from the Burlington community, but it’s gone nationwide and it’s just amazing,” senior player Mary Lenihan said.
All this buzz is not the typical high school experience, making it difficult for the team to juggle being celebrities with living their daily lives.
“As far as the student part, I don’t think we have [balanced],” captain Maggie Barlow said. “It’s very hard to be in class and get the notification that Billie Jean King tweeted about you then just sit there like nothing happened. I personally have not been able to focus at all.”
In terms of playing soccer, players say this experience will enhance their gameplay.
“I think it’s just giving us momentum. We’re all really excited to keep pursuing this journey,” DeBedout said.
The team is not planning on stopping their campaign for equal pay now. They plan to donate some of the money they have raised to the Greater Burlington Girls Soccer League (GBGSL), a soccer program for girls in kindergarten through sixth grade.
“The goal is to help GBGSL more reflect the demographics of Burlington because right now it doesn’t at all,” Barlow said. “We want to widen the access for young girls to get into sports so that they can be empowered as well.”