Groundbreaking Females In Illinois High School Football History

The 3 biggest female centered high school football stories I’ve covered

Fenger head football coach Jouscelyn Mayfield, center right, hugs DuSable head football coach Konesha Rhea, as the pair meet at midfield after playing what is believed to be the first varsity game between to female coaches in America, in Chicago, on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022. (Vincent D. Johnson/for the Chicago Tribune)

Thursday, September 15th, 2022, marked what is quite possibly the first ever varsity high school football game played with two female head coaches in America.

While I know there are some milestones I didn’t witness when it comes to females in high school football; here are three of most memorable Illinois High School Football female milestones I have covered.

1. First Varsity Game Between 2 Female Head Coaches

I think every TV station in Chicago made it to the Fenger vs DuSable football game at Gately Stadium, as head coaches Jouscelyn Mayfield of Fenger and Konesha Rhea of DuSable, became the first female head football coaches to play against each other, in Chicago, on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022. (Vincent D. Johnson/for the Chicago Tribune)

It’s hard to believe, but not hard to believe, that 2022 would be the first time two female high school football coaches were paired up in a game. Second year head coach Konesha Rhea of DuSable, met first year head coach Jouscelyn Mayfield at midfield of Gately Stadium for the coin toss, in what seems to be according to those in the know, not only the first Illinois high school football game between two female head coaches, but the first in the nation.

Fenger would secure a 50-0 victory, giving coach Mayfield her first career win in the process.

2. The 1st Female Varsity Football Head Coach

Head coach Barbara Martin talks with players during a preseason practice for the Clemente High School Wildcats of Chicago, IL. August 2003. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.

I put this one at #2 only because, it was bound to happened, just surprising it was 16 years till another woman became a head coach.

Barbara Martin, was a teacher at Clemente High School and became Illinois’ first female varsity football head coach in 2003. Martin was only the second head coach at Clemente. She replaced William Galluzzi, who had been in the position since 1979, but didn’t come in cold turkey. She started as frosh/soph coach in 1996 and eventually was made an assistant coach by Galluzzi, who had tapped her as his replacement.

While only at the helm for 3 seasons, Martin managed to secure a winning record all three seasons and finished 17-9. Not bad considering the Wildcats had not been above .500 since their 1995 season.

Barbara was really about the team and wanted nothing to do with fanfare over being the first female head coach. She agreed to let me cover her practice that first season only if I promised the story would focus on the teams quest to become playoff eligible again and refrain from photos of just her.

Illinois’ first female varsity football head coach Barbara Martin with her team at Clemente High School of Chicago, IL. August 2003. Photo by Vincent David Johnson.

3. Candice Caruso 1st Female To Play In A State Finals Game

Candice Caruso (16) becomes the first female to step on the football field at a state final game in IHSA history. Illinois high school varsity class 8A State Final football game between the Lockport Porters and the Stevenson Patriots of Lincolnshire, at Memorial Stadium, In Champaign, Illinois, on Nov. 30, 2002. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.

Not sure what it was about female power in the early 2000s, but the 2002 8A State Final game brought Illinois its first female player to play a down on the biggest stage of the season.

Outside the typical big stories for a state final’s games, November of 2002 had a little side story buzz going around the press box, would Lockport play or actually give the ball to their senior running back CanDice Caruso, who was about to be the first female player to suit up for a football state final.

With the game in hand late in the 4th quarter, Lockport did put Caruso in for a couple of downs, but she never received the ball.

  1. Chicago is high on DuSable right now - The Visual Preservationist

    […] What’s all the hype about? Well if you haven’t heard, their head coach Konesha Rhea is a woman, now in her second year in that position, and two weeks ago she faced off against another female head coach, first year head coach Jouscelyn Mayfield, in what has pretty much been ruled the first ever varsity high school football game between two female head coaches. […]