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Juniper Schwartzman `27 becomes first woman to play for Grinnell football

Zach Spindler-Krage
Juniper Schwartzman `27 joined the football team as a kicker. She became the first woman to play and score for the team during their Sept. 30 game against Lawrence University.
Juniper Schwartzman `27 makes an extra point on the Grinnell’s final touchdown in a 34-16 win over Lawrence University.

2023 Iowa College Media Association award winner, Second Place – Best Print/Online Sports Reporting

Just five weeks into her first year, Juniper Schwartzman `27 has etched her name into the Grinnell College history book. Joining the football team as a kicker, she became the first female athlete to play — and score — for the team.

Taking the field to kick an extra point, her inaugural kick soared through the goalposts during the Sept. 30 game against Lawrence University, which Grinnell won 34-16. 

Now, Schwartzman is poised for more. For one, she is a three-sport athlete, currently in the midst of soccer and football seasons and preparing for basketball to ramp up. 

As a member of the women’s soccer team, Schwartzman’s powerful kicking ability as a goalkeeper was immediately apparent to head coach Kirsten Koester. When head football coach Brent Barnes reached out to her to inquire about recruiting a kicker from the soccer team, Koester knew whom to recommend.

“There’s something about Juniper that made me think she would say yes,” said Koester. “Being a multi-sport athlete, I’m convinced she can learn just about anything she tries.”

Without having ever kicked a football before, Schwartzman agreed to contact Barnes. The night before her tryout, she grabbed a football and gathered her friends at the practice field.

“I didn’t want to assemble all the football coaches just to watch me fail,” said Schwartzman. “So I tried a few kicks, and they felt good. In a lot of ways, it isn’t that different from soccer.”

Roughly a week later, Schwartzman’s historic in-game kick ignited a chorus of galvanizing cheers from the crowd and an exchange of animated high-fives between players.

At the time, Schwartzman was unaware of the history.

“Nobody ever explicitly told me that I was the first woman on the football team,” Schwartzman said while laughing. “I figured that I might be, but I didn’t know for sure until I saw it on Instagram after the game.” 

Koester, who is also Grinnell’s senior woman administrator, a position affiliated with the National College Athletic Association, says that while celebrating Schwartzman’s achievement, it is also important to remember the preparation and skill required to make it possible.

“This is historic, and it’s also not a gimmick. These historic events are happening across the country with amazing athletes like Juniper who step outside their comfort zone,” said Koester. “I would be excited for anyone who had never kicked a football before, but it’s extra cool that she’s the first woman to do this.”

This is historic, and it’s also not a gimmick. These historic events are happening across the country with amazing athletes like Juniper who step outside their comfort zone

— Kirsten Koester, head women's soccer coach, assistant athletic director and senior woman administrator

As memorable as this experience has been for Schwartzman, it is one of many achievements in her athletic career. At Galesburg High School in Illinois, Schwartzman played six sports, earning the school’s recognition as Female Athlete of the Year in 2023 as a senior.

“During the fall season, for example, I would go to school from 7:40 a.m. to 3 p.m., then have volleyball practice 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., dance 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. and marching band 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.,” said Schwartzman. She also played for her school’s tennis, basketball and soccer teams. 

“It was always a little chaotic, but I loved it, and I learned to manage my time,” she added.

Schwartzman’s appetite for learning extends beyond athletics. At Grinnell, she said she is planning to study physics and environmental studies before pursuing a doctorate in renewable energy research. She said her ultimate goal is to become an environmental engineer. 

“I guess I would label myself as an athlete, but there’s more to it,” said Schwartzman. “Academics always come first because of what I want to do in the future.”

I guess I would label myself as an athlete, but there’s more to it. Academics always come first because of what I want to do in the future.

— Juniper Schwartzman `27

Schwartzman has also learned seven instruments in her free time. One of which is the French horn, which she played for her high school marching band.

She is additionally ranked No. 34 in the state of Illinois for the board-game Scrabble. She jokes that despite being better than average, she’s still not good enough to beat 70-year-old retirees, let alone her No. 3-ranked dad.

Regardless of the activity, Schwartzman says she is constantly competitive with herself and wants to make the most of the opportunities she is given. With regards to football, she said she can see herself continuing to play. 

“We’d certainly love for her to continue developing and be a part of this,” said Barnes. “We plan to recruit another kicker for next season, but she has the strength and could keep improving with a bit of coaching and offseason training.”

Schwartzman says that part of her motivation to play football has been fueled by recent stories about female athletes breaking boundaries. On Sept. 23, Shenandoah University’s Haley Van Voorhis made history as the first female non-kicker to play in a NCAA college football game, garnering national attention and praise from professional athletes.

In Grinnell’s own Midwest Athletic Conference, Pekin High School senior Mylee Hansen announced on Aug. 26 that she committed to join the Monmouth College football team as a kicker in the fall 2024 semester. Schwartzman said that these examples are likely just the start of a wave of female athletes moving into historically male-dominated sports.

While Schwartzman said she and her coaches are not yet certain how they will balance her soccer and football commitments for the rest of the fall season, Koester and Barnes say they are determined to support Schwartzman’s opportunity to expand upon her historic debut.

“It’s a very organic situation right now,” said Barnes. “That’s what I love about Grinnell in general. You get the chance to pursue opportunities you never thought would come up.”

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About the Contributor
Zach Spindler-Krage
Zach Spindler-Krage, News Editor
Zach Spindler-Krage is a third-year political science major and policy studies concentrator. He is from Rochester, Minnesota and has an unbelievable amount of state pride. Zach spends his time hiking, playing and listening to music, trying to submit op-eds for every class writing assignment, and wishing he was in Minnesota.
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  • J

    Jim Asplund, Grinnell '88Oct 7, 2023 at 4:39 pm

    Congratulations, Juniper! My brother is the superintendent of the Galesburg schools and told me they had a great student at Grinnell now. He was not kidding!

  • J

    Julie EstlickOct 5, 2023 at 1:26 pm

    Congratulations to Juniper and everyone involved in making this happen. I am proud to be a Pioneer!