The Harlem Middle School football team needed some points last week against the visiting Columbia Middle squad, so the Bulldogs turned to an all-around athlete with reliable hands and gridiron grit.
Harlem went to its go-to girl, Nichole Hall.
Hall hauled in a 25-yard touchdown pass Tuesday to become the first girl to cross the goal line in Harlem Middle School history.
''She's the third girl I've had on the team in 17 years, and she's the first to score a touchdown,'' Harlem coach Benjie Moore said of the eighth-grade tight end.
The fact that the score occurred during fifth quarter action, where nonstarters participate in a 15-minute scrimmage, didn't diminish Hall's accomplishment.
''The team went nuts,'' Harlem assistant coach Dan Sneeringer said. ''The students love seeing her play. They think it's the best thing since sliced bread.''
On the touchdown play, Harlem called a gadget pass, which was specifically designed to spring Hall loose.
''The play was the flea flicker. When we were lining up on the line of scrimmage, all I had to do was just shoot down the line and catch the pass,'' she said.
As the play developed, Columbia Middle defenders double-covered Hall, but Harlem's Kyle Knight lofted a pass in her direction anyway.
''There were two guys in front of me,'' Hall recalled prior to a team practice last week in Harlem. ''They were right there about to intercept it, but the ball went through their hands, and luckily I caught it and ended up with a touchdown.''
Even before the score, Hall had become a celebrity among students and teammates at Harlem Middle. She regularly plays on the kickoff return team.
''She fits right in,'' coach Moore said. ''There is a minor inconvenience when it comes to the dressing room.''
Hall also plays softball and basketball and runs track, but last year she set her mind on becoming a football player in 2001.
''I decided to play football because I wanted to be different from everybody else,'' she says.
Hall soon learned the sport wasn't sugar and spice and everything nice.
''Some people out there don't have one ounce of niceness in them throughout the entire season when they're on the football field,'' she said. ''It does take a little bit of meanness to knock somebody around, especially if you're one of the smallest players out there.''
Hall doesn't plan to play football in high school, but she says participating for one season in her favorite sport is worthwhile - especially after the touchdown reception.
''At halftime the coaches and players were congratulating me on my catch, and they said I'm one of the guys now. That's something I didn't expect, but it made me feel good,'' she said. ''I've got a lot more touchdowns left in me. It's only a matter of time before I get 'em.''
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