By Jeff Brumley
Some women are called to break barriers by becoming deacons, senior pastors and denominational leaders.
For Aleena Garcia, 20, it’s coaching football.
And while it’s not a church ministry, Aleena said her Baptist faith, plus an early fascination to the gridiron, prepared her for her current role as an assistant football coach at Live Oak Classical School in Waco, Texas.
“I knew that God was leading me in this direction because of the genuine joy I got from coaching,” the Baylor University sophomore said. “It was something that only God could provide.”
‘Glad they said no’
It wasn’t one of those flash-of-light callings, but rather a slow, gentle nudging that began years ago.
“I have always been interested in sports, especially football and basketball,” Garcia said. “I grew up going to all kinds of Baylor games — basketball, football, baseball, softball and tennis.”
She’s told her father took her to her first Baylor football game when she was 4 months old.
“I don’t remember going,” she said, but “I’m sure I had a blast.”
She was involved in sports from a young age, too, mainly playing basketball through high school.
All of that laid the groundwork for the day Garcia learned, in the seventh grade, that Live Oak planned to launch a football program. Immediately, she began pestering her parents to play football.
She pestered, but they said no.
“I was initially disappointed when they decided not to let me play,” she said. “But looking back I am glad they said no.”
Glad, she said, because the alternative turned out to take her in a direction that has inspired her. She saw what turned out to be a better route into the game for her than playing.
“I figured out how to still be a part of the team by becoming the ‘official unofficial’ team manager,” Garcia said. “I just started showing up to all the games. From there I would make my way to the sidelines, where I took it upon myself to prepare the water, equipment and anything else that needed to be done.”
Learning the game
It was a little nerve-wracking at first, she added.
“I was nervous that I would get in trouble for finding my way to the sidelines, since I kind of just decided I was going to take on the role of team manager,” Garcia said. “It was never really an official position until later.”
But that ended soon.
“Once I was on the sidelines, I was in the zone and totally engaged with the game so I didn’t really pay attention to the fans or anything,” she said. “I am completely comfortable being on the sidelines now.”
Garcia said her gender has not been an issue on the sidelines or anywhere else, and she can’t think of a time when someone doubted her coaching abilities because she hasn’t played organized football.
Her lifelong interest in sports has helped her keep up on sports news, games and strategies, especially in football. So she’s well versed in play designs and game strategies.
“And over time, I guess, I just picked up on how you’re supposed to play the game,” Garcia said. “I’m not really sure how I learned what is or isn’t the correct technique for positions, but I guess I picked up on things by watching football for years and standing on the sidelines watching” Live Oak Head Coach Jordan Baker.
‘Something only God could provide’
In an online article published by Baylor, Baker said he has been watching Garcia, too.
Her job with the team is to run the scout team offense. That entails watching and analyzing film on opposing teams then help the scout squad, in practice, imitate Live Oak’s next opponent.
Garcia also is an assistant coach for the school’s baseball, track and field and girls’ basketball teams.
“She’s an outstanding, hardworking person who is very loyal,” Baker said. “When she finishes her education, she will be able to do anything she wants and be good at it — including coaching football, if she so desires.”
That kind of praise doesn’t surprise Sharla Garcia, who said her daughter has been “incredibly determined” since childhood.
That singlemindedness has enabled her to choose a path in life “that is not necessarily chosen by many or very easy,” Sharla Garcia said. “She has a strong sense of self that enables her to do that.”
There is also an unmistakable sense that the passion her daughter has for football and other sports is a gift from God. It’s because those passions tap into other gifts for the caring and lifting up of people, Sharla Garcia said.
“It’s a connection between God giving you this gift and a strong sense of self that it doesn’t matter if other people think it’s cool,” she said.
And Aleena is about more than sports, which is evident in her interest in philosophy.
“She’s bookworm and jock,” Sharla Garcia said. “It’s this weird mix, and it works for her.”
What makes it all work, Aleena Garcia said, is her relationship with God.
“My faith is incredibly important to me,” said Garcia, who attends First Baptist Church in Waco. “It is a part of who I am. I probably wouldn’t have followed my passion for coaching if it wasn’t for my faith.”
She said she knows God has led her into coaching because of the joy she feels doing it.
“It was something that only God could provide,” she said.