MANATEE COUNTY — Nine-year-old twins Sarah and Emma Fazio tend to leave a lasting impression wherever they go.
But it’s more than just their brown pigtails and matching uniforms that have piqued the interest of sports fans across the East County.
Rather, it is Sarah’s blazing speed, Emma’s potent arm strength, and the girls’ sheer toughness that have garnered the attention of opposing players and coaches. All that — coupled with the fact that the two have spent the past four years in a male-dominated sport — and it’s no surprise that the girls are approached regularly by teammates looking to race or parents and coaches offering praise for a job well done.
Last week, the girls began their fourth season with the East Manatee Bulldogs. Sarah and Emma, who will be fourth-graders at Gullett Elementary this fall, not only are the only girls on their team but are also the only girls playing football for East Manatee entirely.
“At first, the other players were surprised that there were two girls playing football,” Sarah said. “They all wanted to race us.”
After spending years watching their beloved New York Giants, the twins began playing football when they were 5 years old after watching their older brother, Joey, now 12, play.
“I wanted to play football because of my brother,” Sarah said. “He would play football in the yard with me, and we would watch football games together.”
“I wanted to play because my brother played football with us and it’s fun,” she said.
And while the two can agree on why they decided to play football, the two have different opinions on who made the decision.
“Me,” Sarah says with a smile.
“No! I did,” Emma is quick to respond.
And although the girls love the game just as much as their male teammates, their mother doesn’t exactly share the same enthusiasm for the sport.
“I wasn’t going to let them play (last) year, but then when we went to sign Joey up several of the coaches came up to them and said, ‘Sarah and Emma: Are you going to play?’” Julie Fazio said. “All the girls kept saying was ‘See. You’re the only one who doesn’t believe in us.’
“It wouldn’t be my sport of choice, but the Bulldogs coaches have been very good to them,” she said. “I’m very happy with the way they’ve been handled and the job the coaches have done. They let them play, but they also take care of them.”
After spending two years playing flag football, the girls enjoyed playing their first season of tackle football last fall. This year, Sarah and Emma will return to their prominent roles on the field — Emma at quarterback and Sarah at running back while also playing cornerback on defense.
“I like running the ball and scoring touchdowns,” Sarah said.
“I like throwing touchdown passes,” Emma added. “But it’s a little hard though because you have to be able to read the defense.”
And although the two have different strengths on the field — Emma can throw farther, while Sarah can run faster — one thing remains the same: The two will always be teammates and best friends.
“I don’t think they’ve ever done anything without each other, so they don’t know anything different,” Julie Fazio said.
Contact Jen Blanco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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