High school football is often seen as an all-boys club, with girls rarely playing physical positions. In Michigan, Elly Finch is breaking norms.
Football is usually seen as a man’s game, so for the close-minded, it can be threatening when a young woman does it better than pretty much everyone else. On the rare occasions when a woman is on the field with men at the high school or collegiate level, it is usually at a low-contact position. Some people still use the fear of a player getting hurt to suggest that football is no place for a woman.
Yet there is another young star on the rise. Royal Oak High School in southeastern Michigan can claim Elly Finch (Class of 2023), who is shattering records in all varsity sports, but mostly on the Ravens’ varsity football team where she will serve as captain in her upcoming senior season.
Finch plays both sides of the ball, and she’s perhaps the best weapon in Oakland County high school football. As a left guard and middle linebacker, she brings plenty of physicality to the field. She was named Royal Oak’s 2021 Most Dedicated Player, a varsity captain, and is heralded as one of the team’s most influential leaders.
“She leads our football team on a daily basis, by the way she conducts herself both on and off the football field [with] the way she practices and challenges her teammates. She’s also a vocal leader by encouraging her teammates and challenging them when she feels they need that challenge,” head coach Dustin Truitt told FanSided, heaping on the deserved praise. He added, “She’s constantly demonstrating the characteristics we look for in a student-athlete.”
Finch doesn’t just excel on the field or in the gym, either. Sure, she’s a starter on the girls’ varsity basketball team and holds the Royal Oak discus record, an All-State nod at shot put, and several all-county track and field honors, but she is also a 4.0 student who will finish high school with 24 AP credits — or a semester and a half of college work already done.
So what does she want to do when she hangs up her No. 55 Ravens jersey? Her coach thinks she can do anything she sets her mind to.
As for Elly? She wants to eventually be an offensive line coach for a college or the NFL, and maybe play in college if offered the opportunity.
The journey to varsity captain is hard enough, but Finch has dealt with adversity that no one else on the team has had to endure. She’s faced rampant sexism and doubt since her days of pee wee football in local recreation leagues.
“My biggest adversary has probably been the coach I had in the 7th and 8th grades. Mind you, I had been playing football for three years before that and started for two on a team called the Royal Oak Chiefs. My first year [on this new team] was all new coaches. He told me I would never be able to play high school football and that I would be ‘too small,”too weak,’ and that I would get hurt and never play again. He broke my heart because my heart belonged to football and I couldn’t imagine losing it.”
Did Finch let her middle school coach bring her down? Absolutely not.
“I am thankful for him. One, because without him consistently telling me I couldn’t do it, I don’t think I’d be as tough as I am now to do what I have done. As well, now when someone tells me I can’t do something, I just remember those years and remember who I am now and what I have accomplished and what I am capable of.”
The boys on her high school team have taken an enlightened approach when it comes to playing with a girl. Basically, may the best player win. And Elly Finch certainly does. Coach Truitt says, “they treat her like a captain, and when she talks, they listen,” and Elly knows that any of her teammates would have her back if she ever needed it.
Finch has cemented her spot in the Royal Oak football family, but she wants to make sure she isn’t the last girl to play. She spends her summers volunteering at basketball and football youth camps, as well as working a part-time job at a local pizza place. When the school year starts, she will surely be breaking records and playing at a high level, all while competing for the number one spot in her class academically.
When women enter a male-dominated space, the powers that be and those in established positions often feel intimidated, scared, or threatened. Elly Finch is here to let other girls know that they can push for what they deserve without worrying about male comfort.
Finch goes above and beyond in taking what she deserves. She is perhaps the best two-way player in school history, an All-State field athlete, and a varsity basketball player. She is one of the best students in her school and focuses on science and technology, which are often male-dominated fields.
On top of that, she has opted to take online sports management classes, in the hopes of getting a jump-start on her career goals. She wants to be an NFL coach someday, but with only a dozen female coaches in the league, she will need to get an advantage. The bitter reality is that being just the best isn’t enough for her to break the glass ceiling — she needs to show that she’s the best, most capable, most deserving, and hardest-worker in the field.
She’s done all that before she can buy a beer, so what would make her slow down? Coach Truitt believes in her, and with her taking upwards of 700 snaps on both sides of the ball, she will have plenty of time to prove herself at the highest level.
Finch and her Ravens compete in the Oakland Activities Association. It’s worth noting that nine of the last 12 Michigan state champion football games have had an OAA team in it, but the Ravens have had limited success. Since the school’s inception 17 years ago, the varsity team has combined for a 41-104 record. They have had only four winning seasons, last in 2018, and in four seasons, the Ravens have gone winless. Last year was Finch’s first season on varsity and Royal Oak went 2-7.
With an all-OAA nod in her junior year, it’s safe to say she should be one of the most dominant left guards and linebackers in the county this season, anchoring a defense that desperately needs some help. Coach Truitt is entering his first season at the helm of the Ravens’ football team and hoping he can be the guy to turn it around.
As Finch starts to navigate the college recruiting system, she will probably be flooded with offers from small local schools like Albion, Alma, Hope, Kalamazoo, and Northern Michigan. Based on her academics, she can reasonably get into any school she wants. Playing offensive line in college and excelling as an NCAA student-athlete is a whole different game than the Friday night lights, but Finch shows no doubt. If she wants it, she will go out and get it. The college and pro leagues should keep Finch on their radar, because she’s on her way, even if they aren’t ready for her quite yet.