COALMONT, Tenn. — For Karastin Anderson, tonight may be the night. Then again, although opportunities are dwindling, it might not.
For almost four years, Anderson has suited up and gone to practice to endure the grind of stretches, sprints, drills and all things that are part of high school football's daily regimen.
She — yes, she — has participated faithfully in offseason workouts and not only is a junior varsity starter but one of the varsity captains, yet she has yet to play in a varsity game for Grundy County.
"I've always loved playing. I played backyard football with my brothers," she said. "There were people that told me I couldn't play. My thought was 'I'll show you.'"
The administration and coaching staff made the proper allowances, including a dressing room and shower facility for her and a female manager, yet those were only minor obstacles to overcome.
There were those who reminded Anderson of ladylike proprieties, those who were jealous and threatened her because of those afternoons she spent around their boyfriends, and those who never missed a chance to sling cruel and even crude barbs her way.
She remained secure and confident.
The reminders were shrugged off and the threats and the cruel and crude comments ignored. She won over the reluctant players who wanted no part of having a girl on their team.
"I never witnessed any hazing. Most of her hazing came from other girls in school," Grundy County coach Casey Tate said. "As it has gone along, though, these guys would be quite angry if somebody said something out of the way. You can tell. Her hard work, lack of complaints and never missing sprints — she's never been first, but she's never been last, either — or anything else the rest of them does won them over."
For Anderson it was all for the game and for the reward of playing — being a part of Friday night lights.
"She wants it. We all want it, and I'm sure it's going to happen," Tate said. "She deserves it as much or more than anybody. We're proud to have her, but I'm not going to lie. When a girl comes in and says she wants to play, that traditional Southern gentleman's mentality tries to take over, but you have to let them do it."
Tate has an older sister, but he and his wife have no daughters to go with their three boys.
"It's hard when you have a girl around and you've watched them grow up. It's hard for a Southern male to put them in a violent game on Fridays," he said. "You worry as a coach (and protector) about targeting. The natural reaction is that we in the South were raised to protect females."
When asked if there was a rule that says he has to let her play, Tate responded by saying what he was allowed to do.
"I know there is no rule that says she cannot play. There is no rule that governs who I play," he said. "There are other kids along with Karastin who put out the effort, and if they do what they're supposed to do in school, in practice and in the community, they deserve to play."
It is the reward and justification for years of devotion.
Whether she gets there — and Tate says he'll force himself to let her play because she's earned it — is actually secondary for Anderson, a defensive back and wide receiver.
Her reward has been her part in the experience. As she put it, "I just love the game."