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Female Kickers Look For Acceptance, Not Discrimination On Football Field

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DURHAM — Two female kickers have different experiences after playing on their schools' football teams. One woman says she was discriminated against because she was a woman, while another is being accepted by her teammates.

WhenDuke'sstarting kicker was injured in 1995, Heather Sue Mercer, a walk-on, filled in and kicked the winning points for the Blue Devils during a scrimmage. She was listed on the roster, but she says she never felt like part of the team. She was cut in 1996.

Mercer says former Duke head coach Fred Goldsmith made sexist remarks and asked her why she was not interested in beauty pageants. In court, lawyers for the university said Thursday that Mercer never mentioned those remarks in her original complaints.

Students on Duke's campus have mixed reaction to Mercer's lawsuit.

"Males and females are made differently, and there are physical limitations to what they can do. They become subject to injury, and it has been like that for years," says student Betsy Stewart.

"I think anyone who can play the game -- if they are good enough and qualified -- should have a spot on the team," says student Ronald Provey.

Members of theNational Organization for Women, who have been following the case, say Mercer has a good chance of winning her lawsuit.

"I think this is a very strong case, and I think the woman will win it on its merits," says NOW spokeswoman Robin Davis.

Mercer is not the only woman who wants to play football. A female football player is thriving at another school in the Triangle.

Bonnie Clarke, a senior for Athens Drive High School, kicks extra points and short field goals for the football team. She says she has found acceptance instead of discrimination from her male peers.

"She has been embraced," says teammate Mark Killus. "We have known her for five years from middle school, so we all know her and get along with her."

Clarke says everyone has been supportive of her being on the team.

"Mostly, I just hear our fans saying, 'Bonnie, Bonnie,'" she says. "I remember in the beginning of the year, when I went to talk to him (Coach Simmons) and he said, 'Oh, I don't care if it is a cow, pig, horse, girl or boy. Just as long as they can get the job done.'"

Coach Larry Simmons says he did not have any reservations about giving the female field goal kicker a chance.

"I can't imagine any coach not wanting their best athlete on the field, whether it be male or female," he says.

Clarke may not play football at the next level, but both she and her coach agree that she should be given the chance to prove herself.

Simmons says "The bottom line is, 'Can she kick the ball through the goal posts and is she consistent at it?"

Clarke says she wants to attend UNC-Chapel Hill, butsays she probably will not be playing football. Clarke was also nominated to her school's homecoming court.

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Richard Adkins, Photographer
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