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Layton and Finch prove girls are just as tough as guys

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For the Chenango Forks Blue Devils, the road to a third straight state finals appearance can only happen when working together as a team. So it's only fitting that when all 31 Blue Devils are dressed in full gear even their parents have a hard time telling them apart. Until you spot a ponytail.

That blond ponytail belongs to Hanna Layton, a 5'8" fullback and linebacker... and a girl.

"I like being aggressive and being able to hit somebody every once in a while and tackling. I like carrying the ball as well," Layton said.

She's been playing football since she was 8, played lacrosse with the boys as a kid, and last May scored a goal in the Section IV Finals to help lead the lady Blue Devils to a lacrosse section title.

Being a tenacious girl, her mom questioned her original decision to trade in her shoulder pads for pom poms in high school until she realized the alternative was her daughter playing varsity football.

"Why don't you do cheerleading instead, and she said 'no I want to play football with the boys.' So, she did," said Sandra Madison, Hanna's mother.

"[My parents] were a little worried that I was going to get hurt or break something," Hanna says with a hint of an eye roll. "You know parents, they're going to freak out on you, but I was like, I can do it... obviously."

"She had her mind set, there was no turning back," Madison said. "She wanted to play and there was no convincing her, you know, 'don't do it.' and she enjoys it."

But whatever concerns mom had are not at all shared by her teammates and coaches.

"She works hard, she's tough. she's very tough," said Forks Head Coach Dave Hogan. "She gets right in there and she wants to be in there, both on offense and defense. She's definitely playing for the right reasons."

"Hanna's a tough girl. She hits us, we hit her," said Tony Silvanic, senior quarterback. "She does awesome in practice so we don't take it easy because she doesn't take it easy."

"You can't really go easy in football, it's a natural sport of being aggressive," Layton said.

But Layton is not the only local female in a male dominated sport. The Maine-Endwell Spartans season and historic 62 game win streak ended in the state semis, but like Layton, lineman Jaden Finch is known for being just as tough as any of the guys, even if players on the other sideline are afraid to hit them.

"They either go easy on me because they were taught since they were little, that you don't hit girls or they go harder on me because they know i want to be treated just like them," Finch said.

"Other teams look at it different because they're like 'oh, I didn't mean to tackle a girl.' or they just get surprised that girl is actually playing and actually running the ball," said Layton.

But they're ready with their responses.

"I just tell them that I'm out here for the same reasons you are - to play the sport I love," Finch said

"It's fine, don't worry about it. It's just a normal thing, it's football," Layton said. "You gotta do what you gotta do."

While they don't want anyone on the field to treat them differently, that doesn't mean they aren't treated differently by the fans who cheer louder when the girls, both on their team's second string, get into the game.

"[The Maine-Endwell] community is amazing. The first time I played in a varsity football game, the crowd was cheering for me, my school, because it's such a small community."

"Everyone enjoys watching me play," Layton said. "I like it because I enjoy everyone encouraging me and it makes me want to play more."

Now, both Layton and Finch serve as inspiration to other young girls at Forks and Maine-Endwell to buck the trend and give football a shot.

"Girls in school will be like, 'you're a football player? wow! i want to play football!' and they all come up to me and i'm like 'good, that's good, let's go play football!'" Layton said.

Finch adds: "it's really cool to see things like that and be able to talk to those girls and say 'you can do this... it's hard, I'm not going to tell you it's easy, but if it's really what you want to do, you can do it.'"