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Deanna Hansson grew up ... everywhere. Her dad was in the Navy, so her family moved around often — to wherever he was stationed: Germany, Japan, the U.S.
In 1983, as she was entering high school, Deanna and her family moved to Sigonella, Sicily, a small but very close-knit community.
The following summer, Deanna was out playing catch with her friends on the football team, when ...
"They were like, 'Wow, D. You could throw the football way better than we can,' " Deanna says," and we think it'd be great if you would try out for the team. You know, we'd have you as a quarterback, or a backup quarterback, anything.
"And, when I thought about it, the team was so small that more than half of the guys played both offense and defense. So, I figured, 'Well, you know, at least I can go out there and try and help.' So, I said, 'Sure, no problem,' and told my parents I wanted to to play to see if they'd be OK with it.
"They gave me permission. They checked with the school administration. And the folks there — they were good with it. However, they needed to get some regional permission from the Department of Defense Dependents schools. And the sports director said, 'Absolutely not.' "
At the time, Department of Defense Dependents Schools banned co-ed competition in athletics. And despite everyone’s support, the director in Rota, Spain refused to make an exception.
A Stroke Of Luck
"Well, interestingly enough, my mom and dad were in a hotel restaurant bar," Deanna says, "and one of their friends pointed out a gentleman at the restaurant. He was a U.S. Navy JAG officer. And they introduced my parents to him. My parents summarized the situation to him, and he asked my parents to go to his office the next day, because he was very interested in working the case.
"He sent a letter to the director of the Department of Defense Schools in Washington, D.C. What happened between the time that he sent that letter and a very short time later — I don't know. But the regional director in Rota then reversed his position and allowed me to play."
Deanna soon made the team, but at 5-foot-8 and 135 pounds, being on the football team wasn't always easy.
"There was one time when one of the largest players on our team — we were scrimmaging, and he caught a pass," Deanna recalls. "And I was playing defense at that time and literally grabbed onto his legs and held on for about 30 to 40 yards while he drug me across the field. And the guys were laughing.
"They had no idea who was going to fall first. Their bets were on the fact that he was ultimately going to fall, because I was not giving up."
The First Game
"The first game, we played against Vicenza," Deanna says. "The team was probably at least twice our size in body, as well as the number of players. So, it was a little scary for a first time player to go out there and know that these guys were that big. But I was excited about it. I wanted to go out and play.
"Unfortunately, our starting quarterback at the time had his arm broken within the first half. So, that meant I got to go out on the field and play the second half of the game.
"The first snap, I think I almost fumbled the ball, because I was so nervous. But I was able to complete several passes. We actually got a touchdown right at the end of that half. So I don't know if the coach was joking or not, but at the end of the game, he said, 'You got offensive player of the game there, Deanna. Really nice job.' "
With Sigonella’s starting quarterback still injured, Deanna was expected to start the next game against Naples. It was a familiar place for her. She had made a few friends in the area while playing other sports. But...
"As our bus came through, several of these girls stopped the bus and they said, 'Hey, look, the football team — the guys aren't very happy that Deanna's playing. So, I mean, they're out to get her. I mean, they want to hurt her.'
"So, needless to say, the team met that night. And the next day, we all ran out there with helmets on her head. That way, they weren't able to go, 'OK. Who's the girl?' "
"I played for probably [a] good first quarter or so," Deanna says. "And, before the end of the first half, I was injured pretty significantly on a late hit — a cheap shot, if you will. There's two, three guys piled on and knocked my shoulder out of socket, knocked it back in and, literally, knocked it back out. All in just one play. So they weren't kidding when they said, 'We're gonna get the girl.' "
Deanna had to sit out the rest of the football season with her shoulder injury. But she did get better.
"The season after, I was playing basketball, and a couple of the guys from that team came up to me and apologized," Deanna says, "and said, 'Hey, look, it went too far.' And that meant a lot that they actually did walk up and say that to me."
Even though she played only two games, Deanna says she still feels the lasting effects of her time on the gridiron.
So, would she have played football had she known everything that was going to happen?
"I don't think I would," Deanna says, "because I know what it did to me, physically, to compete against other teams that were literally twice our size. I think it's important for any young athlete, whether it's a male or a female, to know what your physical limitations and abilities are, and make that decision. We shouldn't just do what we think we can. We should really look at the overall situation.
"Building that team friendship bond, it was a great experience. But again, looking back, is my shoulder the way it is today potentially because of that? Yeah, I'm sure it probably had a little bit to do with it."
Deanna Hansson moved back to the U.S. in 1985. She says while she still enjoys watching football, she hasn’t played the tackle football since her time in Sigonella.
This segment aired on January 25, 2020.
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