She blocks, tackles and inspires

Her mom says: ‘It still scares me but as long as she’s having fun, that’s all that matters’

Grafton sophomore Tatum Wiedenhaft stood with a few teammates before last Friday’s playoff football game in Port Washington. Photo by Sam Arendt


Ozaukee Press staff

Tatum Wiedenhaft didn’t know she is already a role model.

After a recent playoff victory for Grafton High School, one of her teammates said her sister wanted to talk to Wiedenhaft.

“I turned around and this girl started crying and I couldn’t talk to her,” said.

The girl’s mother told Wiedenhaft “how much she looks up to me and how she wants to play football when she gets older,” Wiedenhaft said. “It just made a huge impact on me.”

She later Tweeted, “I’m beyond grateful that there are these little girls that look up to me. It’s always been my dream and I want them to chase theirs.”

Wiedenhaft, a sophomore at Grafton High, is the only girl player in the football program.

She loves the sport, and watches football every Sunday with her grandfather, Richard Wiedenhaft, in Grafton.

Her foray into football started on the sideline when she was a cheerleader. “When I was in football cheer, I would always watch the football players play,” Wiedenhaft said.

She wanted badly to play, but her mother Michelle Zarling wouldn’t let her.

“So I just stuck with cheer,” Wiedenhaft said.

It was in eighth grade when Wiedenhaft got to put on football pads for the first time, and it wasn’t exactly with her mother’s blessing.

“My stepdad kind of went behind her back and signed me up,” Wiedenhaft said.

Zarling remembers how she found out. She asked where Wiedenhaft and her stepfather were going one day. Her daughter wouldn’t tell her, and her stepdad said, “football practice.”

Zarling was surprised.

“All of a sudden her stepdad signed her up behind my back and it was game over from there,” she said.

Wiedenhaft didn’t have a favorite position, but she had a couple of spots she wanted to avoid.

“Any position was fine with me as long as it wasn’t kicker or wide receiver,”she said.

She would have liked to play tight end, but the Grafton Gladiators needed offensive linemen. Wiedenhaft obliged, and is plenty happy mixing it up in the trenches.

Her teammates were a little apprehensive about the Gladiators’ nontraditional addition.

“At the start, they had a hard time accepting me. I was the first girl to join their team,” Wiedenhaft said.

“But once we started getting closer they started accepting me a lot more. I get it. It takes time to accept. I’m not a guy. I’m a girl that plays a boys’ sport.”

Wiedenhaft came off the bench at first. She came in after the Gladiators’ right tackle broke his arm and started the rest of the season.

When Wiedenhaft started high school, it took some time to be accepted by her new teammates. “They probably never had a girl teammate before,” she said.

The coaches were welcoming right away.

“Coach (Jim) Norris was the first coach I’ve ever met and he accepted me right away,” she said.

Varsity stars, including all-conference offensive and defensive lineman Josh Lee-O’Bryant, encouraged her as well. During a summer scrimmage against Kettle Moraine, “I didn’t block the right guy and I just started breaking down. Josh just came over and said, ‘Hey, you’ve got it next play. Don’t let it bother you,’” Wiedenhaft said.

She calls the team atmosphere “a big family.”

In addition to offensive line, Wiedenhaft, who stands 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighs 185 pounds, also played nose guard this season, lining up directly across from the center.

“Personally, I like defense better. You can hit more people,” she said.

Tackling is a highlight.

“It just feels nice because that’s when everyone is cheering for you. It feels like a great accomplishment,” Wiedenhaft said.

She notched one fumble recovery this season against Cudahy and later in the game sustained a concussion, from which she has recovered.

“It still scares me but as long as she’s having fun that’s all that matters,” her mother said. “She has wanted to play it forever. It is fun to watch her play.”

Wiedenhaft said her hair sometimes gets stuck in her helmet, so she usually puts it in braids.

She is accustomed to waking up with aches and pains throughout the season.

“Oh yeah, you’re hurting,” she said. “It’s a physical sport. I know I’m going to get hurt.”

The hardest part is lifting weights, she said.

“I don’t lift as much as those boys,” she said. “I like it. I just can’t bench as much. I can squat as much.”

Now that football season is over, Wiedenhaft gets a short break before her next sport. She is manager for the girls’ varsity basketball team.

Come spring, it’s time for track and field. Wiedenhaft throws shot put and discus.

One of her football coaches, Eric Graf, encouraged her to try the sport.

“My freshman year I did track and I just fell in love with it,” she said.

Some football players are already in it and “we had a good connection right away,” she said.

The gridiron, however, remains her favorite spot.

“Grafton football is just a huge part of my life and I’m just really thankful for the family we’ve created, with them being my big brothers,” Wiedenhaft said.

She plans to continue with the sport, and not just because she loves it.

“I’m definitely going to do that especially because that one girl who came up to me. I didn’t think any little girl looks up to me,” she said.

“It means a lot that one girl would make this whole thing happen.”



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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