Coventry & Warwickshire

'First' woman to play American Football at highest level in UK

A woman is set to become the first female to play American Football against men at the highest level in the UK.

Jen Hilton, 27, has joined the Coventry Jets who are part of the British American Football Association's Community League.

She wants to play in the running back position and said the only difference in kit is extra chest protection.

Coach Gerry McManus said she gets stuck in and has the respect of teammates.

If she takes to the field in a game later this month, she will be the first female senior kitted American Football player in UK history, the British American Football Association said.

'Toughs it out'

Women currently play a no-contact, no-kit version of the sport in the UK.

An avid fan of the full-contact sport, Ms Hilton, from Tile Hill in the city, approached the Jets to see if she could join.

"When I turned up I got a really good reaction," she said.

"They were very professional and didn't blink an eyelid when I asked to join.

"I was really impressed by that."

Ms Hilton, who weighs about 200 lbs and is 5ft 10ins tall, said she does not think players in other teams will take issue with her.

"I don't think they will notice a woman running past them.

"The game develops so quickly, it's not going to be something they will think about."

Image caption Ms Hilton said she does not think other player will mind a woman playing

The club was told by the sport's UK governing body that there was no ruling to stop mixed teams from competing in the league however, the European Federation of American Football (EFAF) has refused to let her play in any European cup games.

But Mr McManus said she was "welcomed with open arms" at the Jets as she was so passionate about the sport.

"It is a physical sport...but really gender hasn't got a lot to do with it out here on the field because you're either a football player or you're not a football player," he said.

"She gets in there...she's been fantastic, she's done everything we've asked her to do.

"From our point of view, she toughs it out with the best of them."

Gary Marshall, chairman of the British American Football Association, said: "We're delighted to announce what we believe to be the first female senior kitted American Football player in UK history, joining the Coventry Jets for the 2011 season.

"This is a really positive step showing that it is ability that matters in our highly competitive sport.

"We've previously had females playing at university level and they are regular participants in the non-kitted, flag version of our sport.

"However, this development represents an excellent step forward for American Football in the UK."

There are currently almost 50 teams competing in the Premiership and Divisions One and Two in the league.

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