Long Island Lutheran senior Carolyn Dottino-Buenahora joins football team
On a recent Saturday afternoon, Carolyn Dottino-Buenahora tucked her long, brown hair into her football helmet before getting off the team bus.
The Long Island Lutheran High School varsity football team had arrived for its game against Great Neck North, and Dottino-Buenahora didn't want her opponents to know she was a girl.
"Right after [the game], I took my helmet off," said Dottino-Buenahora, of Huntington. "We were high-fiving each other and [the other team] is going through, like 'Good, job, dude, Good job, dude,' and then, all of a sudden, they're like, 'Girl? Good job, girl!' It was the funniest reaction I'd ever seen.
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"The entire game," the 5-4 Dottino-Buenahora said, "they probably thought I was a twerpy little third-grader trying to kick the ball."
Dottino-Buenahora became the first girl to play for the Long Island Lutheran football team and the first girl to play high school football on Long Island since Jaelisa Rehal kicked for Longwood in 2009.
The senior attempted five extra points, making four, in the team's 42-14 victory.
"I would be nothing without the guys on my team," she said before going 4-for-5 Saturday in LuHi's 50-34 win over Roslyn.
"I hope . . . it sort of leaves a precedent for female athletes, or even nonathletes out there," she said. "The idea isn't necessarily to take up a boys sport, but I did it also to be different and to prove a point -- that you should never let anyone say a girl can't do the same thing as a boy."
The star soccer player, who was recommended for the football team at the school in Brookville in early September, first became eligible in time for the Sept. 29 Great Neck North game, athletic director Todd Heubner said.
"She kept telling me to give her a shot," LuHi football coach Chris Reno said. "And I said, 'OK, we're going to do this, and we're going to do this not because you're a girl, but because you're the best kicker we have.' "
Federal Title IX mixed competition rules allow her to play on the football team because football is a sport not offered to girls. She was required to attend 15 practices after her status was approved by a three-person panel composed of district and school administrators. The 17-year-old also received permission from her doctor and parents.
Matt Borer, the team's quarterback and Dottino-Buenahora's best friend, said he was taken aback at first but quickly got comfortable. "We all thought it was sick, awesome," he said. "It was so easy" for her.
Ian Brown, a defensive and offensive lineman, said Dottino-Buenahora, who will be playing Division I lacrosse at Louisville, is a "freak athlete at everything she plays."
"I'm sure the other teams will be surprised," he said, "but as long as we're putting points up on the board, I don't really care what their reactions are."
This girl with the golden foot can nail field goals up to 35 yards, special teams coach Artie Flomer said, though Reno said they're most comfortable using her in the 25-yard range.
Right after getting her pads, Dottino-Buenahora said she was still a bit shy about the new role, but felt she needed to practice. At 11 p.m., with all her gear on so as to avoid detection, she and her robe-clad mother, Christine Dottino, trotted out to the Huntington High School football field, near her house.
"My mom is in her PJs and she was holding the ball for me," Dottino-Buenahora said. "I couldn't even see the post, but I was still trying to do it."
While her mother was enthusiastic, her father, Dr. Joe Buenahora, a podiatrist, said he was slightly concerned about her safety. Her coaches and teammates assured him she'd be protected, he said, and he hasn't looked back.
"I was very proud" at that first game, he said. When she came on the field, "the LuHi cheerleaders started saying 'Car-o-lyn, Car-o-lyn' . . . and the girls from Great Neck North High School came up to her after the game and they were all so proud of her."