When Nancy Bonura, 21, decided to attend Gallaudet College, she thought she would have to give up soccer. But when Marty Minter, the coach of Gallaudet's men's team, saw Bonura play in a soccer skills class he teaches, he asked her to try out for his team.
This past season, Bonura -- who scored more than 60 goals in four years of high school soccer in New Hampshire -- was able to play soccer again. She was the first woman to join a Gallaudet men's varsity team, and Minter had a new right wing for the squad.
"At first, I was afraid the boys on the team would look at me," said Bonura, a sophomore in her first year at Gallaudet after a year of school in Texas. "But they welcomed and encouraged me. They've been very patient."
"She's showing that women can do it," said Minter, who coached the Bison to a 9-4 record this year, their best season ever. "Some women have higher skill levels and need to compete with men."
Minter said that when the other teams saw a woman on the field, they were skeptical, at first. "But when they saw her play, the doubt was usually removed. Other teams were surprised at her ability and tenacity," he said.
Late in the season, against Valley Forge Christian Academy and St. Mary's College, Minter inserted Bonura into the starting lineup.
"My philosophy is that the best players play," Minter said. "It's not just a question of skill, but also of attitude. Nancy earned the starting role, she wasn't given it. The players all realize she has a lot of ability.
"She's tenacious. If she loses the ball, she goes after it. In no way is she timid. She challenges men."
Minter added "that her knowledge of the game and her ability to cross the ball from her right wing position" made her an asset on the front line.
A few games back, against Appalachian Bible, Bonura scored her first goal for Gallaudet.
"I thought I'd never get a goal on the men's team," she said. "When I scored, I knew I'd made it."
"Having a girl on the team really hasn't affected anyone," Minter said. "She fits in nicely. She practices every day. Coaches treat her like the other players. I myself haven't changed. The only odd thing is that she's not in the dressing room with the boys."
Bonura, who also ran track, played softball and skied in high school, said she wanted to continue to play soccer because it's her favorite sport. Gallaudet's women's sports -- field hockey and volleyball -- "weren't my bag," she said. Bonura had always wanted to play on a men's team, but she had thought her skills and passing abilities might not be strong enough.
Minter says there are aspects of Bonura's game that can be improved. "She has to keep her head up when she's dribbling the ball," the coach said. "Her speed may be her weakest point and she tends to tire, but that's probably because in the past her coaches haven't worked her that hard."