By Rich Chrampanis
LITTLE SILVER – The Buc Deck is Red Bank Regional’s loyal student section which can easily get whipped into a frenzy under the Friday night
lights. Junior Liva Helt was one of those students in the stands who enjoyed the atmosphere of high school football. An elite soccer player, Helt was inspired to leave the stands and give football a try.
When the RBR football team scored its fifth touchdown Oct. 5 against Toms River East, the whole stadium erupted when head coach Nick Giglio decided to give his junior varsity kicker the chance to get into the varsity spotlight. This wasn’t just an extra point; it was a moment that inspired.
Liva looks like all the other players in the maroon and white uniforms, but the Red Bank Regional faithful knew that this wasn’t just anoth- er player entering the game. The crowd buzzed with excitement knowing that a girl was about to get her chance to shine on the gridiron. Helt calmly booted the 35th point of the game through the uprights and solidified her place as one of the few female high school football players.
“Well, I was just thinking, I’ve seen a couple of girls do it in different states, so why not try,” Helt said. “My Dad always said to me, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ I let that inspire me to take another step.”
Helt is used to soaring to lofty heights in her athletic career. The Denmark native who has lived for the past two years in Little Silver with her family is on the Danish Under 18 national women’s soccer team and plays stateside with Sky Blue PDA. She’s mastered two languages (Danish and English) and now two sports. Helt could have joined the Bucs girls soccer team and been one of the top midfielders in New Jersey, but instead she decided to take on the challenge of translating her skills on the soccer pitch to booting a pigskin both on extra points and field goals, along with kick-offs. It didn’t take long for Helt to fit right in with the Red Bank Regional football program.
“I wanted our players to see what Liva could do, to help coming into the program,” Giglio said. As soon as she started kicking and making them, I knew right then and there it was going to make that transition, that ease-in process, a whole lot easier because they’re like, ‘She’s a football player.’ Guy, girl, it doesn’t matter.”
For an athlete who could possibly compete in the Olympics and the women’s World Cup in future years, she’ll never forget the moment she made her varsity football debut. “It was an amazing experience,” Liva said. “It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I could hear the Buc Deck cheering for me. I was very nervous to be honest, but once I went out there they all encouraged me and said, ‘You got this.’ Then I kicked it in and they all crowded around me. It was very nice.”
Helt is the Bucs junior varsity kicker and booted a 23-yard field goal against Ocean Township in addition to a whole slew of extra points during the team’s current 5-1 campaign. Her field goal range is 35 yards and she feels she can increase that as she continues to perfect her craft. Varsity kicker Chris Maida praises Liva’s accuracy. As if the moment of her varsity debut wasn’t special enough, the RBR staff knew Helt was celebrating a birthday over the weekend and the entire football team serenaded her with “Happy Birthday” following the win.
“It’s just this community and knowing that everyone is supporting me and encouraging me to break this glass ceiling,” Helt said. “It’s different because they’re all boys. Once I came on to the sideline (after kicking the extra point) everyone was hugging me and my Dad was literally crying in the stands. It was just a special experience.”
Liva is not the first Shore Conference female kicker, but it’s no doubt a rarity. Abby Letson was Colts Neck’s full-time kicker during her senior season in 2013 and Long Branch’s Leann Bollinger was the first female in New Jersey high school football history back in 1989.
It can’t be overlooked that while Liva is blazing trails as a female in a male-dominated sport, the entire football roster has welcomed her in as one of their own. There’s not much of a fuss about “the girl football player”; Liva is simply a Buc like every one of her teammates. And her words about her coaches and teammates are proof positive of the effects of football beyond the sport.
“It gives you hope that society isn’t just pushing down women,” Helt said. “These people have been very, very nice and supportive and always talking to me and they haven’t excluded me from anything. They’re really great people. They have great character in the end.”
This article was first published in the Oct. 18-24, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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