St. Johnsbury Academy hires first female football coach

Kearney is believed to be Vermont's first female high school-level football coach
Published: Sep. 1, 2022 at 9:03 AM EDT
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ST. JOHNSBURY, Vt. (WCAX) - History is in the making in St. Johnsbury with what’s believed to be Vermont’s first female football coach running the field.

Julia Kearney is a lifelong athlete and was already involved in the St. Johnsbury Academy’s athletic department. She says when the head coach asked her to join the team, she was excited to take on a new role.

Female athletes know being a woman in sports doesn’t always feel like an equal playing field.

“I played baseball growing up so I was always with the boys. And I was actually like forced out of baseball because I was a girl. They didn’t want me around anymore,” Kearney said.

But the St. Johnsbury Academy football team not only wanted Kearney around, but they also wanted her in charge. Kearney is one of the assistant coaches for the St. Johnsbury Academy Hilltoppers football team.

“I’m a huge advocate for women in sports. So being able to put my mark on it and be able to contribute and do my part. Lead the way for the others behind me and show people it’s you can be a girl and be a football coach. Who cares? Who cares who you are,” said Kearney.

Kearney has many roles on the field. She’s in charge of the running backs and the cornerbacks and is also a strength and conditioning coach working with all the athletes in the weight room.

Kearny, a lifelong athlete, is also a personal trainer. She works at the academy’s gym with Head Coach Richard Alercio.

“One day I just said, ‘You can help me coach football.’ And she enthusiastically jumped at the offer. And I think she thought I was joking, but I wasn’t,” Alercio said.

Alercio said Kearney is a natural coach and inviting her to join in a leadership role on the team was a no-brainer.

At St. Johnsbury Academy, a handful of female students have played on the football team over the years.

“I’m a firm believer that women are the future of football. I think that girls who love football and play football or coach football or officiate football will become moms who let their kids play football,” said Alercio.

This season Kearney is coaching a sophomore girl on the field, an experience she says is empowering.

“We can navigate those waters together as both a coach and an athlete. So it makes it a cool dynamic, and it’s cool to be breaking barriers together,” said Kearney.

Kearney says her experience has been positive. She says her main challenges so far surround avoiding sunburn on the turf and working to learn the Xs and Os like the back of her hand.

And like any coach, Kearney has high hopes and high expectations for the Hilltoppers.

“Of course, I’m going to say I hope we want to stay champions. But just keep improving. Every day as long as you’re giving 100% effort and trying your best constantly, good things are going to happen.”

The high school football season starts Sept. 2 with nine games across the state.