It’s not hard to spot Milagros “Mili” Hernandez on the soccer field — she’s the girl with the short, not-quite-pixie cut and the outsize talent.
She’s been playing since she was 5, but the 8-year-old was bumped up to a team full of 11-year-olds after running circles around girls her own age in Omaha.
Her biggest concern in life is soccer; she wants to play in high school, then college, then in the pros, her brother, Cruz, told The Washington Post.
But Mili’s dad, Gerardo Hernandez, recently inquired about her hair. He cut it short when she was younger — an easy decision for an active kid who spends most days zipping around a soccer field.
But as she got older and was able to make decisions about her appearance, he asked whether she wanted to let it grow out more.
Her reply? A resounding no.
“When my hair starts to grow, I put it short because I’ve always had short hair,” she told Nebraska NBC affiliate WOWT. “I didn’t like my hair long.”
End of conversation, her father told The Post.
Mili went back to running around a soccer field every chance she got, her hair not quite blowing in the wind.
But hair and soccer collided at a tournament last weekend. Mili’s all-girls team, the Azzurri Achurros, won two of their three games Saturday, guaranteeing them a spot in one of Sunday’s final games. Trophies were at stake.
The match was scheduled for 2 p.m., but Hernandez got a call several hours earlier: The team had been disqualified.
Someone had complained that Achurros had a boy on their team — his short-haired daughter, Mili.
Mo Farivari, the president of Azzurri Soccer club, which includes Mili’s team, said the complaint was amplified by a typo on a registration form, which listed Mili as a boy. But another form listed her as a girl — and she was playing on an all-girls team and is, in fact, a girl. So Farivari thought the problem would be easily straightened out.
Convinced there had been some mistake, Hernandez grabbed his daughter — and her insurance card, which lists her gender — and headed to the site of the tournament.
“I was mad; I never had that problem before. She’s been playing so long in different tournaments,” he told The Post. “I don’t want no problems with nobody, but that wasn’t the right way to treat people. Why they want to tell my girl looks like a boy?”
He showed up at the tournament, insurance card in hand, but “they didn’t even want to take it,” he said. “They told us the thing was decided.”
An official with the tournament did not return a call from The Post seeking comment.
Mili, her family says, had a very 8-year-old reaction when told she wouldn’t be able to do something she really wanted to do. She cried.
“She tried to keep her composure, but you could see it in her face that she felt bad about it,” her brother told The Post. “She felt like she let her whole team down.”
And her father found himself trying to explain an unfair world to an 8-year-old.
“I told her people makes mistakes,” he said. “Everybody makes mistakes. But you just got to keep playing.”
He thinks the pep talk worked. By Monday, she was back to dribbling a soccer ball and obsessing about her favorite team, Guadalajara’s Chivas.
Still, Hernandez stewed. Not just at the mistake that made his daughter cry, he said, but at officials’ unwillingness to hear him out.
“I brought the card,” he said. “They didn’t even want to take it.”
Some consolation came as Mili’s story made national headlines: Some of her heroes chimed in.
Mia Hamm, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and the co-owner of the Los Angeles Football Club, invited Mili to a Team First Soccer Academy camp.
And Abby Wambach, who also has two gold medals and an affinity for short hair, held herself up as a role model.
“Mili,” she tweeted, “don’t EVER let anyone tell you that you aren’t perfect just as you are. i won championships with short hair.”
Wambach also took to Instagram, where she recorded a video message for Mili, saying: “You’re a natural-born leader, honey, and I’m so proud of you.”
Dear Mili Hernandez, you are amazing in every way. Thank you for teaching us how to be brave and shining a light on something so hurtful. If you don't know, she is my new hero. Her team was disqualified from a tourney cause they thought she was a boy because of a clerical error that wasn't handled properly. Let's meet soon sister.