RIDGEFIELD, Conn. -- One of the world’s most acclaimed linebackers grew up in Connecticut but has never played a down in the states. In fact, when Phoebe Schecter attended Ridgefield Academy, she did not know football was an option for girls.
That is only part of the unusual story of Schecter’s career path. The 26-year-old returned to the school recently and spoke with students in grades 4-8 about how a former multi-sport athlete at Ridgefield Academy finds herself now playing for the Great Britain national football team. Ridgefield Academy requires all students in grades 6-8 to play a sport each of the three seasons to learn different skills and experience the joys of working as a team.
“I think playing a lot of sports and doing a lot of different things helped me prepare for this,’’ Schecter said. “I’ve taken a little bit of everything from all of the sports I played.”
A self-described “tomboy,” Schecter played basketball, soccer, lacrosse and softball growing up in Redding before moving to Ridgefield, where she was the captain and goalie for the Ridgefield High School lacrosse team.
After studying and receiving her degree from Post University in Equine Business Management, she moved overseas and worked for the Dutch Olympic Three-Day Equestrian event team. She also learned of an opportunity to try out for the Birmingham Lions women’s football team in in England.
“I always loved football,’’ she said. “I thought it might be fun to give it a try.”
She tried out for quarterback -- and was a disaster. “The coach told me if I wanted to make the team, I’d have to find another position,’’ Schecter said. “I liked the contact part of it. I started playing linebacker and found my niche.”
She gave up the equestrian gig and concentrated on her personal training business and football. She quickly became one of the best players for the Lions.
“Phoebe is, and has always been, a huge part of our team,’’ teammate Jo Kilby said in a story on the Lions website . “She has an enthusiasm for the game that’s infectious, she’s a top teammate and her physicality and ability unquestionably mark her out as the country’s premier linebacker.”
Schecter uses her speed and leverage to track down ballcarriers. “My job,’’ she told the students, “is to find the person who has the ball and hit them.”
Great Britain started its national team in 2013 and this summer was invited to play in the European Championships. It won a qualifying game against Russia in May. In August, Schecter was named team captain for Great Britain for the championship round. Great Britain won its first two games before losing to Finland in a hard-fought championship game. After just three years of playing the sport, Great Britain is ranked No. 2 in Europe and Schecter is regarded as the top linebacker in Europe and one of the top three linebackers in the world.
When she visited Ridgefield Academy, the young students oohed-and-aahed as Schecter showed video of her running down opponents. With her blonde hair spilling outside her helmet, Schecter showed sideline to sideline swiftness. She also encouraged students to pursue sports in which they are interested, and not to get discouraged if they don't succeed at first.
Perhaps most importantly, Schecter has embraced her role as an ambassador for the sport in Europe. She speaks on behalf of the National Football League’s Play 60 project, which encourages students to participate in physical fitness activities for one hour every day. She also runs clinics on behalf of the NFL.
Schecter is changing the world. The way she’s doing it is unusual for a young woman.
“If by playing football I can encourage people to become more physically fit, that’s a great accomplishment,’’ Schecter said. “There’s no better way for a young girl to build self-esteem and self-confidence than football, or any sport.”