Two years later, Van Voorhis is being recruited to play football by several colleges, including Division III Shenandoah University in Winchester. Wherever she lands, the first time she steps on the field, she will be the first woman to play a position other than punter or kicker on an NCAA team.
“I’ve been playing football as long as I can remember,” the 5-foot-6, 150-pound Van Voorhis said. “There’s just something about it that I really love.”
This past season was one of firsts for women in football. Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller drew national attention as the first woman to play in a Power Five conference game; later in the season, she became the first woman to score when she converted a pair of extra points. This weekend, Sarah Thomas will become the first woman on the officiating crew at a Super Bowl. And the Washington Football Team recently announced that Jennifer King had been promoted to the full-time coaching staff, making her the first Black female assistant in the NFL.
In 2018, Van Voorhis was the first girl to play football at Christchurch, a boarding school located about an hour east of Richmond on the shores of the Rappahannock River. She also was the MVP on the girls’ basketball team last winter and a standout in lacrosse.
As a junior in 2019, she was a reserve wide receiver and safety who played on special teams. Like so many other high school athletes, she didn’t get to play her senior season because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Her coach, Edward Homer, said “without a doubt” she would have been the starting slot receiver as a senior on his team last fall — and a captain, an announcement that received loud cheers from teammates when Homer made it after a preseason workout.
“She’s a badass,” said Homer, who is entering his 30th season as the school’s head coach. “She’s not afraid of anything.”
Van Voorhis has never suffered a serious injury, but her father, Chandler, admitted “it can be nerve-racking to watch” her in action.
“But she’s gotten so strong, and she’s in such great shape,” he said. “She’s learned how to protect herself, how to take a hit. And she can hit back, too.”
Van Voorhis first played football as a fifth-grader in what was supposed to be coed flag football. She was the only girl on her team, a dynamic she has become accustomed to. Occasionally she is on the receiving end of trash talk, or more.
“Sometimes they try to blow me up because I’m a girl,” she said. “Sometimes they refuse to hit me because I’m a girl. I don’t mind that.”
She first played tackle football in a Fauquier County boys’ league from sixth to eighth grade. She was on the junior varsity team at Kettle Run High as a ninth-grader and then chose Christchurch, where Homer was clearly ready for a young woman playing on his team with the boys.
“As a coach, there are certain things you’re always looking for, especially when it comes to practice,” Homer said. “They have to be on time; they have to listen, work hard and check any issues they have at the door. Haley is really good at all of that. She’s always early to practice and usually the last to leave. And she’s working out all the time. She is so strong. If you looked at a picture of her a year ago, you probably wouldn’t recognize her. She can squat 240 pounds; that’s almost twice as much as her own body weight.”
Homer had no qualms about putting together a highlight tape of Van Voorhis during her junior season, including that game against Randolph-Macon, and sending it to several colleges. One went to Shenandoah defensive backs coach Byron Mitchell. At a college scouting combine Dec. 6 in Richmond, Mitchell watched Van Voorhis go through speed, strength and agility drills in person.
Mitchell and Shenandoah head coach Scott Yoder are prohibited by NCAA rules from talking publicly about recruits until they have signed to attend the school. But athletic department spokesman Scott Musa confirmed Shenandoah has told Van Voorhis she would have a roster spot in the fall.
“I still haven’t completely decided, but I’m definitely leaning to Shenandoah. It would be a big opportunity,” Van Voorhis said. “The day after [the combine], Coach Mitchell contacted me and offered me a spot on the team. I was really excited, especially after not having a senior season [at Christchurch]. I’m also talking to the basketball coach at Shenandoah. I’d really like to be a two-sport athlete.”
In the meantime, she will continue training and this spring will play a six-game schedule with the D.C. Divas professional team in the Women’s Football Alliance. She won’t receive a salary or have expenses covered, allowing her to retain her college eligibility.
“Right now she is in the best shape, or at least in the top 1 percent, of anyone on our team,” said Rich Daniel, the Divas’ founder and team president. “When she tried out, we didn’t have to look twice. We knew she could play immediately, probably on defense.
“If you’ve been around it long enough, you can always tell when someone really loves the game. Haley has definitely fallen in love with football. It really shows. And when she goes to Shenandoah, she’s going to make history.”