It's not uncommon to see a girl participate in a boys league when she’s younger.
As they grow up, however, girls and boys tend to play in their own leagues, but for 13-year-old Autumn Morris, she loves the challenge of playing against the boys.
Morris has been playing competitive soccer for seven years, the last four years with boys teams.
“Mainly, the boys’ speed of play has taught me to make quicker decisions. It has also taught me to create movement off the ball,” Morris said. “The boys are very creative and you always have to be ready for the ball to come to you. These things will give me an edge when I go back to playing with the girls.”
Morris, who will be a freshman at Mansfield High School in August, is playing at the highest level of boys soccer for her age, the ’01 boys classic league in Dallas.
She plans to try out for the girls varsity team at Mansfield.
“Even though it will be tough, I am always up for the challenge. I look forward to going against the older girls to test myself and see where I stand,” Morris said. “I feel excited because I know this is a great opportunity. Every time I go against the boys, they make me a better player. I feel hopeful that I can make an impact and help my team win.”
If given the chance, she would like to try out for the boys junior varsity or varsity teams at Mansfield, but knows it will be a far bigger challenge than it is now.
“I would love to, but the boys at that age are too big and strong. I wouldn't be able to keep up. After 14, the boys, physically, separate from the girls,” Morris said. “The boys play more of a possession-style soccer and are more creative. As far as speed, not only can boys run faster, but they make very quick decisions.”
Her grandfather, Todd Pettijohn, and parents, Shane and Kelly Renfro, helped her through the process and believed that she started it only for the training, but ended up realizing that she could compete with the top-level boys.
“I feel proud and excited when I watch her playing against top-level boys, knowing that she has chosen the hardest path any girl could take in her soccer tournament,” Pettijohn said.
“We are excited to see her take on the challenge of playing with the boys,” Kelly Renfro added.
It’s not uncommon to see girls playing baseball with boys, but for Morris, she's the only girl that her parents have ever seen playing boys soccer.
Morris started off playing soccer and fell in love with it right away. She didn't feel like she had to play any other sport.
“I haven't been interested in any other sport besides soccer. I like soccer because it's different from other sports. It's a ‘beautiful game,’” Morris said. “Soccer keeps you in shape. To me, it is more challenging than any other sport.”
She really got into boys soccer after a conversation her father had with University of North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance, who also coached Mia Hamm.
“They asked him what it would take for her to get to the level of the girls on his team. He told them to have her play against boys for as long as possible,” Pettijohn said.
Morris knows she has a great chance of making the team in high school because she has played with boys for so long.
“I feel like my speed of play is faster than the girls because of the boys,” Morris said.
She knows that in any sport, regardless of being a girl on a boys team, you have to earn the respect of your peers. For Morris, it's a steeper hill to climb playing against the boys.
“If they haven't played against me before, they may underestimate me and not know what to expect. Hopefully, I quickly earn their respect on the field and they will respect me like any other player,” Morris said.
Even though it's far too early for colleges to scout Morris, she does dream of playing for UNC and making the National team one day, but for now, she's just a young girl showing the boys the ropes.