By Stephen Perez, Cronkite News
On a fall Friday night, Julia Chambers cheering section at Skyline High School takes up an entire corner of the bleachers.
“Every time she touches the ball or is on the field, people are cheering. It is pretty inspiring for me. I get goosebumps every time I hear them,” Skyline football coach George Hawthorne said. “It is pretty awesome.”
Chambers is one of the varsity football team’s running backs, the first female in the school’s history to play the position. The 2019 season is her first season with the Coyotes football team.
After spending her first two high school fall semesters and the summer before her junior year participating in cross country, Chambers decided it was time to trade her running shoes for football cleats.
“I trained for cross country all summer,” she said. “Right before school started, I asked myself if I really wanted to do cross country for the season. I enjoyed football a little bit more, so I just decided to go for it this season.”
She had previously hesitated to go out for the team because of negative comments she heard about her interest in playing.
“I talked about joining the team. There were some people who were negative about it and I was not sure,” she said. “I still have some today that, when I tell them I play football, they laugh at me. It is their opinion, and if I want to do it I go and do it.”
Given her accomplishments as a student-athlete, it is unlikely that Chambers is ever hesitant about competing.
In just her first two years of high school, she has participated in cross country, track and field, and wrestling – all while being a key contributor to extracurricular activities at Skyline and taking honors-level classes.
And Chambers does more than just participate.
She has been to the state championships in track and field and wrestling, winning the first Arizona girls wrestling championship in her 125-weight division as a sophomore.
Multi-sport athletes such as Chambers often attract college coaches because their training from each sport helps them develop attributes that suit them well overall.
Also, they are often injured less than those athletes who specialize in just one sport.
According to a study conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations in 2016, athletes who specialize in one sport were twice as likely to report previously sustaining an injury.
Despite her multi-sports high school career, Chambers said she believes it is her wrestling talent that will stand out to colleges.
“If it came down to it, I would probably say wrestling,” she said. “But if I get a scholarship for wrestling and track and field it would be whatever school gives me both.”
Her talents have not gone unnoticed. Chambers said parents of young girls sometimes approach her and share that their daughter has an interest in wrestling or football because of her.
“Moms will come up to me and tell me their daughter is thinking about doing wrestling and asking if they could take a picture with me,” Chambers said. “There are a lot of girls who ask me at school, and I tell them they need to go and do it and they will be great at it.”
Hawthorne said football is for everyone and having Chambers on the team helps bring an energy that is contagious.
“Her impact has been tremendous,” he said. “When they watch her give it everything, then they decide that they have to give a little bit more.”
Chambers has faced criticism. She loves every sport she competes in and knows that critics do not define her as a player.
“I was skeptical at first, but it was something I really wanted to do and I did not let anything hold me back from that,” she said. “You cannot care about what others think. Just go out and do it and you will be fine.”