NEW PORT RICHEY — Decades ago, few people questioned the roles of men and women in society, especially when it comes to sports. But in the 21st century, males and females are branching out and doing what makes them happy, without regards to stereotypes.
A pair of Gulf High School students on the 2018 freshmen homecoming court were an example of this trend.
Homecoming week, held in October, is the highlight of every academic year for high school students. There is often a football game and a dance, as well as themed days for the week.
For Gulf High School, these days consisted of Character Day, Pink Out, Spirit Day, Tacky Tourist Day and Country vs. Country Club Day.
There is also homecoming court, to which young men and women from each grade are nominated by their classmates to be crowned “homecoming royalty.” Two seniors are crowned king and queen, and two juniors are awarded the titles of prince and princess.
The freshman court only had one girl and one boy nominated. As opposed to gowns and suits like the rest of the court, the pair stood on the field in uniforms.
Brooke Tuttle and Brian Collins are making their freshman year one to remember by standing out in the sports teams, and not just because of their athletic skills. Tuttle, a kicker, is the lone girl on the junior varsity football team. Collins is a junior varsity cheerleader and the only boy on the squad.
Tuttle began playing the male-dominated sport in the eighth grade because she wanted to push herself to the limit.
“I decided to join football because I wanted to try something different and I’ve always been a strong believer that anyone, no matter who you are, you can do anything,” Tuttle said. “I wanted to see what kind of athlete I am.”
Even though she received support for joining the team, she also got some backlash.
“Some people thought it was cool and respected a female for doing a male dominated sport,” she said. “But the majority of the people thought that only males should be playing football and that females have no business being out there.”
Opposing players were often skeptical about how to treat her on the field. “Either guys from other teams wanted to hit me even harder or they wouldn’t want to hit me at all.”
She hopes to change the way people assume gender stereotypes. Not just in sports, but in all aspects of life.
“People still think that all men are masculine, and all females are feminine. But the fact is that we are equal when it comes to this and people need to stop their assumptions and realize everyone, woman or man, are capable of everything,” Tuttle said.
Being on the homecoming court was one of the highlights of her year so far, especially because she got to enjoy it with Collins, a friend she has known since middle school.
“It was so much fun to be involved in my school and show my passion for my school,” Tuttle said. “I’m also so happy I got to share my experience with one of my very close friends, Brian Collins. He’s awesome and is making a difference in society just like I’m trying to.”
She is also on the varsity 2018-2019 Gulf High School varsity girls soccer team and hopes to become a professional soccer player one day.
As any mother would, Tuttle’s mother, Courtney, was concerned for Brooke’s safety when she began playing the rough sport in the eighth grade but has been her number one fan since the beginning.
“At first, I was worried that she would get hurt, but then she showed her ability to play and then I was her biggest fan,” Courtney said. “She was very driven, went to every practice and really pushed herself.”
Tuttle’s homecoming partner decided to try his hand at cheerleading after seeing the squad jumping, flipping and getting the crowd pumped up during the half-time show. Collins started cheering in the eighth grade, on the Gulf Middle School cheerleading squad.
He has received a bit of criticism for joining the squad, Collins acknowledged, but not from anyone that mattered to him.
“People were accepting of me, at least my friends,” he said. “The people that I didn’t know had words to say, but I just ignored them because I was doing something that made me happy.”
He wants to prove that gender shouldn’t matter when it comes to doing something you love.
“In a way, I feel society traps themselves in a box of who should play what and it’s not OK. Males can dance or cheer, and women can play football or any male dominated sport if they wanted to,” Collins said.
Like his homecoming court partner, he was very excited when he learned that he was voted alongside the female football player.
“I found out after school by a friend and I was ecstatic,” Collins said, adding he was “the happiest person” when he heard Tuttle was selected, too.
After graduation, Collins hopes to earn an education degree from either the University of South Florida or University of Georgia and then teach the second grade.
For anyone that wants to try a sport outside of what is expected of their gender, Collins has some simple words of wisdom: “Just because society may not agree with you, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.”