Lacache-Montegut Middle School’s soccer team has a secret weapon identified by the golden ponytail sticking out of her helmet.
Thirteen-year-old Jennifer Chelette from Montegut has played offensive and defensive line since she was 8 years old. She manages to balance cheerleading, softball and soccer along with maintaining a 3.9 grade point average, just shy of a perfect 4.0.
Thursday night was the first game of the season, and while her team lost 44-6 to Houma Junior High, Jennifer says she’s confident Lacache-Montegut Middle will have a good season. Her coaches agree, saying Jennifer is unmatched in the spirit she brings to the court.
“She’s nasty, man. She’s very tough, she’s mean. If she gets over the ball, she doesn’t care who she lines up with, she brings something,” said her offensive and defensive coach, David “Paco” Fonseca. “She brings an attitude and confidence to the other players.”
Jennifer joins the cheerleading squad on Thursday night. So far, the plan is for her to do cheerleading for the first half of the home games, then get dressed and take the football field for the second half. This will also be her last year playing soccer, because both she and her mother, Heather Chelette, said a 14-year-old girl facing down 18-year-old men is unsafe.
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Jennifer said she wants to focus on her cheerleading, but she will miss playing with a team of boys.
“It’s just building a bond. I’ve been in a lot of different sports that were all girls and it’s so much different,” she said. “You can joke around with your guys, you have good bonds and friendships that will last forever, and with girls you just can’t because they want to get into their feelings.”
Jennifer grew up as a water girl for her brother’s youth soccer team, the Lafayette Swampcats, and insisted to the coaches that she wanted to play. They let her play a tournament to try it out and she was hooked. She won three rings and three national junior league championships by age 10, and even played in San Bernadino, California.
“It’s really fun to see their reactions when they see a girl line up against them,” Jennifer said. “I don’t know if I’d say it gets into their heads, but I definitely get some weird looks.”
She said she decided she wanted to play football when her brother played for Lacache-Montegut Middle six years ago. A girl named Jasmine Parfait played offensive line, and Jennifer figured if Jasmine could do it, so could she.
Her brother, Colby Chelette, said he enjoys watching his little sister play.
“I played football, I always had teammates and friends and everything, and they all had little brothers,” Colby said. “And having your little brothers scared to go against my sister is just priceless to me.”
Jennifer said she never fears the person opposite her because size and strength mean little against technique. She aims to lift the person’s shoulder pads. When they rise to the subject’s neck, the opponent appears on his toes, and from there she can control the rest of his body. The second trick is getting low; from there she lifts with her legs.
“She actually does, I hate to say this, but she does it better than some of the guys, like she pancakes guys in practice,” head coach Chris Duplantis said.
She knocked opposing players off at least a couple of times during Thursday night’s game at Terrebonne High’s stadium.
Her mother and father say they are proud of all of Jennifer’s accomplishments, both on and off the court.
“It’s the GPA I’m most proud of,” said her father, Derek Chelette. “Her dedication, her determination – she always beats everyone. I always told her, technique beats size and strength any day of the week.”