LAKE BOTTOM – It’s often difficult for Maile Lei Villa to contain her own enthusiasm as she weaves her way through life.
The 13-year-old Fond du Lac athlete says she’s drawn to what makes her feel powerful and passionate, and that includes breaking down gender barriers for women in typically male sports.
This same passion drives the young adolescent’s community service work and prompts her to speak out on issues of social justice and equity. Her father, Renny Villa, is a Hawaiian Filipino, and Maile was raised in the “Aloha Spirit” which calls for one to embrace life with compassion and kindness.
In eighth grade at STEM Academy, Maile’s love for the rugged games of physical strength and endurance began out of the blue, in grade three, when a representative from Fond du Lac Rugby Inc. made a big splash. presentation at his school.
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Even at such a young age, rugby’s motto, “Play hard and play well,” resonated quite strongly in her back alley, and she eagerly signed up to play.
“I didn’t know what it was, but I liked that people were chasing me and I had to run fast and challenge my speed,” she said. “I discovered that it is a tough sport because there is no padding and some girls avoid it for fear of getting hurt.
Maile is a member of the Junior Stoutmen of Fond du Lac Rugby, a tackle team for girls in grades six to eight, and of the Fond du Lac Rugby Boomers, a mixed flag team. She also plays in a spring league featuring girls from across the state.
The Stoutmen have won every tournament game they’ve played this summer, and Maile’s coach Ish Harris says that although Maile is only 5ft tall, she makes up for it by “playing smart and working everyone out. “.
In her last two rugby tournaments, the 13-year-old has not only played for both of her teams, but has also been the head coach of the first and second year women’s team.
“There’s just no surrender in her, and she has this amazing ability to miss her flags on other players,” said Harris. “I don’t know how she does it, but no one can catch her.”
Coaches spend a lot of time teaching young players how to tackle properly, and the game is fast-paced and fun to watch – especially flag rugby, Maile’s mother Nicole Villa said because “it’s mixed, no one is left behind and there is a lot of respect – boys know girls are tough players.
When Harris suggested Maile join football to work on strength and speed for the tackle, she hesitated – only slightly before taking on the challenge, despite having recently dislocated her shoulder in a rugby match. when it was picked up and thrown to the ground.
Harris said physical contact games, like tackling games, help girls develop self-confidence and protective skills, and rugby and soccer players need to master movement and know how to communicate and react. in real time in the field.
As one of only two girls in the Fondy Junior Football League, Maile said she made the most of it by attending every practice and game. At first there were a few side eyes and weird looks from some of the boys, and the tackle was a bit awkward, but she held on by “doing” some of the other players.
“It was hard to be with the faster pace of the boys because I don’t know the game and the games that well,” Maile said. “I never felt ready for a real game, although the coach encouraged me to give it a try. I was there more to train and learn. “
STEM Academy Director Tim Scottberg said Maile is a unique student beyond sports. At a young age, she joined the school’s garden club and constantly followed older high school students. She was instrumental in delivering fresh produce to the local pantry and helping guide school tours, where she shared her experiences as a student with adults.
Young active volunteers from Centraide, Fondy Food Pantry and Loaves and Fishes; plays viola and percussion, sings and dances at the Fond du Lac Community Theater and is dedicated to Tomorrow’s Anglers, a fishing club for young people.
“She also spoke to our school board about the masking when many adults would have been terrified of doing it,” Scottberg said. “She is a hard working student with a heart for people.”
The eighth grader felt compelled to voice support for wearing masks in schools because she suffers from chronic asthma, she said, which forced her to spend several months home in virtual learning after COVID-19 first hit the community in March 2020.
“At the time, the cases of COVID were still on the rise and I had just returned to school with about three months in the year and the school board was talking about making the masks optional,” Maile said. “I really didn’t want to have to go back to online school. “
It was disappointing when, after speaking, some parents at the reunion attacked her, telling her that she should “go live in a bubble,” Maile’s mother said.
“It was hard for me to hear negative stuff like that, but I was brought up to ignore comments like that,” the 13-year-old said. “My mom always reminds me of what Michelle Obama said, ‘When they go down, we go up.'”
The teenager was among the participants in Fond du Lac’s Juneteeth and Black Lives Matter walks, which she says inspired her with their calls for peace. Members of the Fond du Lac Police Department walked side by side on Johnson Street with over 100 community residents.
“I think it’s helpful for me and for all of us when we can walk and talk together and learn each other’s stories,” Maile said.
Next year, in her freshman year of high school, she plans to pursue a culinary career so that one day she can open her own local farm-to-table restaurant.
Maile says she’s nothing special; she’s just trying to live her best life and be true to herself.
“I guess I’m just not the kind of kid who likes to sit around the house on my phone,” she said. “I like to be active, to get outside and to challenge myself every day.”
Contact Sharon Roznik at 920-907-7936 or [email protected] Follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/reporterroz.