To some, running like a girl is a bad thing. But the boys on the Marple Jr. Tigers 100-pound football team can vouch otherwise.
Ten-year-old Jessica Ciarrocchi, who also lives in West Chester, has played tackle football for the past two years, and flag football for three. As a running back and free safety, she’s earned 2,850 rushing yards, 41 touchdowns, averaged six or more tackles per game and has recovered seven fumbles.
She is 63 pounds while her opponents have up to 40 pounds on her. That doesn’t seem to bother Jessica, who is seen in a YouTube video charging through defensive lines and taking down her opponents when she’s on defense.
But Mark Ciarrocchi, her father and coach, said that Jessica’s abilities aren’t impressive for a girl, they’re downright impressive period.
“I’m very proud of her,” he said. “It’s everything I would expect to see on a top-level player, and she just happens to be my daughter.”
Mark noticed his daughter’s interest in football one Halloween when he and his wife attempted to have their two girls dress up in themed costumes.
“That Halloween, we wanted them to have matching costumes,” he said, adding that Jessica’s older sister Elena had already chosen to be a cheerleader. “[Jessica] said she didn’t want to be a cheerleader and she made us dress her up as a football player.”
But soon, looking the part wasn’t enough for Jessica.
“She’d come into my office and have a football catch when she was like four or five years old,” Mark said. “She asked me if she could play football when she was five.”
Per her request, Mark entered her in flag football in Chester County.
Mark, a Marple native and current West Chester resident, said he thinks Jessica gained interest in football from watching games on TV with him as well as being toted around when he coached for Marple-area football teams.
Once Jessica started tackle football in Marple when she was eight years old, the boys were a tad confused by a long blonde ponytail sticking out of Jessica’s helmet.
“This one kid was looking, he comes up to me, tugs on my jacket and he’s like ‘coach, that boy looks like a little girl,’” Mark laughed. “I said ‘he is a little girl.’ [The boy] started chuckling and I said ‘wait till she hits you. That’ll go away.’”
That boy and Jessica, Mark said, became fast friends once she gained her on-field respect.
“It’s not easy being a little girl playing all boys sports,” he said. “She had to work her way in but now she’s part of the team.”
Mark said that Jessica likes being one of the boys. She joins them playing videogames outside practice and is eager to stay after practices to toss a ball around. And not only is she playing football, but she plays baseball in the Eastside Little League and ice hockey for Rustin Middle School.
“She likes the competition, the toughness of it,” Mark said. “She’s probably the only kid that I’ve had over the past three years that doesn’t cry on the field at some point.”
And though Jessica has won the Chester County Running Series two years in a row, Mark said Jessica refuses to play individual sports because she sees no point in them.
And while Jessica is a great football player, Mark isn’t sure how long it’ll last.
“When you’re 11, 12 and 13 years old, boys are gaining 15 to 20 pounds a year and she’ll gain five,” he said. “As fast as she is, there comes a safety issue at some point. But right now, she serves it and she takes it.”
But one thing’s for sure, Mark said Jessica will definitely be playing next year.