SHREWSBURY, NJ – When the coach of the Red Bank Regional High School lacrosse team needs a super power for a faceoff, he brings in Rebecca Sullivan, 17, the first girl in New Jersey to play boy’s lacrosse.
“I’ve been playing since I was ten,” says Rebecca. “I always led the team with most penalties, fouls, ejections. I just got carried away.” So much so, she says, that her teammates dubbed her “Bulldozer Becca.”
Rebecca remembers the moment when she decided to switch to the boys team, where aggressive play is tolerated and even encouraged. She was in high school. “I guess my coach decided she could no longer tolerate my ‘dangerous’ defense tactics, and yelled at me that I ‘can’t get away with that anymore.’ I looked at the field where the boys were practicing and thought, I’m going to play with the boys.”
The coaches of the boys were surprisingly supportive from the outset, as were most of her teammates. Some members of opposing teams have been problematic. “If they realize they’re playing against a girl they either target me, or make it awkward by whispering disgusting things in my ear,” says Rebecca. Lisa has witnessed Rebecca being “plowed down multiple times. It was too much of a coincidence not to think it was because she’s a girl.” After one particularly hard hit, she says, there was an audible gasp from the sidelines. Later the boy, and his coach, apologized when they realize she was female.
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Rebecca is undeterred. “In situations like that,” she says, “I do not let the guy off the field without regretting ever coming near me.” One way she fights back: Winning most of her faceoffs. And scoring or assisting with goals.
Says her mother, Lisa, “You worry less about your baby girl when you see she has a voice, can declare her boundaries and assert herself.” Adds her father, Kevin, “She’s very brave. I don’t believe I could have done something equivalent when I was her age.”
Facing tonight’s last game of the season (5:30 pm, 5/9/19, Colts Neck High School) Rebecca keeps it simple. “I’m there for the same reason the boys are,” she says. “To play lacrosse and have fun. It feels so good to be able to walk out on the field and feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be despite the obvious boundaries that I have spent so long breaking through.”