PULLMAN — A Chicago high school football game Thursday will be the first in Illinois history between two Black female head coaches.
Konesha Rhea is in her second season as the head football coach for DuSable High School. Jousecelyn Mayfield calls the shots for Christian Fenger High School. The two will bring their teams to Gately Stadium, 810 E. 103rd St., for a matchup 4:15 p.m. Thursday.
The coaches can’t wait to see each other on opposing sidelines.
“Up until game time on Thursday, Jousecelyn and I always root for each other,” Rhea said. “For all my years in football, this means everything to me. It’s showing girls that they can do anything.”
The coaches’ journeys in Chicago youth football have long been intertwined, and the game will be “two sisters finally crossing paths again,” Mayfield said.
“It had to be her, and it had to me,” Mayfield said. “We’re both going to win.”
Rhea grew up just outside of Chicago “playing sandlot football, the only sport where you can hit and not get in trouble,” she said. She fell in love with the game even as she was unable to find teams to play at organized levels.
But Rhea got the chance to coach the Bridgeport Hurricanes, a youth football team, in 2013. That’s when she met Mayfield, a mom on the sidelines who was louder than most.
Mayfield had taken up coaching her son’s peewee team, “just because we didn’t understand what his coaches were asking him to do,” she said.
Rhea approached Mayfield after the game and told her to keep coaching.
“You don’t see a lot of women in youth football yet, passionate about the sport and screaming all the things that make sense,” Rhea said. “So I went over to her, told her I was the head coach and she was just as loud as I am. We’ve supported each other ever since.”
Mayfield was working security at Fenger when kids at the school found out she coached youth football, and they “kept asking me to come coach, so they could have their homecoming game,” she said. Fenger’s football team had been defunct since the pandemic, but Mayfield was up to the challenge.
It’s Mayfield’s first year as a high school coach, while Rhea is starting her second — after she broke the glass ceiling last season as the first Black female head football coach in Chicago Public League history.
Three girls have now signed up to play for DuSable this year, Rhea said.
“It means I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I tell them don’t give up, even though you have a target on your chest because you’re a girl in this sport,” Rhea said. “Use it as fuel to introduce yourself, and when you tackle them, say, ‘Yeah, that’s me.’”
Playing organized football long seemed out of reach for Rhea — until, at 35 years old, she tried out and made the semi-pro Chicago Force. After two seasons, she tore her ACL, and her daughter encouraged her to call it quits.
But Rhea couldn’t stay away from the game and started coaching the Hurricanes. She was also a regular at Chicago Tech games, “calling out plays and defense schemes from the stands,” she said.
Chicago Tech’s coach took a new job at DuSable — a sports program composed of students at Daniel Hale Williams Prep and Bronzeville Scholastic Academy — and invited Rhea to be the defensive coordinator.
“I was at the first practice ready for someone to say something smart,” Rhea said. “But after the boys warmed up and I started teaching, they saw I knew what I was talking about. Ever since then, they’ve welcomed me with open arms.”
When the head coaching job at DuSable opened up again, Rhea’s players went to the principal’s office and told him to hire her.
Rhea has dropped her seniors off at college, brought flowers to their graduation and recently heard from some of her first players — one who just finished MIT and another who is now a marine.
“They still call,” Rhea said.
The football ranks are “no longer just a boys club,” and coaching high schoolers is Rhea’s calling, “give me these babies and let me teach them the game I love,” she said.
“It’s about knowledge and your passion for the game. That’s what you got to have,” Rhea said. “It doesn’t matter what gender you are. If you have that, you can pass it on.”
Mayfield said she’s still working on her game plan for Thursday.
“What I know is that when I see Konesha, I’m going to give her the biggest hug,” Mayfield said. “We were put here to teach these kids and show them love.”
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