Emma Martin and Nicole Rioux admit there are challenges being among the few girls who play high school football in Maine.

Some are inconveniences you can joke about. Like having to put on your pads in odd spots since you can’t use the boys’ locker room.

“Sometimes, we’re stuck in a janitor’s office. Sometimes, we get the handicap bathroom,” said Rioux, 18, a senior at Poland Regional High.

But the biggest difficulty is the one that matters most. Being able to match up with larger, stronger boys in a tough, physical game while playing a position that typically rewards strength.

Martin and Rioux are starters on the offensive line for Poland. Martin, the team’s center, is 5-foot-6, 170 pounds. Rioux, who became the starter at right guard midway through the Knights’ fourth game this fall, is 5-7, 150.

“You hit high school, and you’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh. They are way taller than me,'” said Martin, 17.


“Middle school was a lot easier for me to play. First off, I wasn’t snapping the ball, I was playing guard. So I didn’t have to worry about that. Then I was bigger than every other guy, so it was a lot easier to get ahold of them.”

In a typical year, several girls are scattered across the state’s varsity football rosters, and it appears their numbers are growing since the pandemic shut down the 2020 tackle football season.

From 2015 to 2018, an average of 13 girls played high school football annually in Maine, according to data from the Maine Principals’ Association. In both 2021 and 2022, 23 girls played high school football in Maine compared to 3,082 and 3,179 boys in those two seasons.

What makes Martin and Rioux unusual is that they are both starting. On the offensive line. Next to each other.

Junior Nolan O’Driscoll, who also plays on the offensive line, said it’s easy to accept Martin and Rioux as teammates.

“They’ve always been playing. All the way from peewee (football),” O’Driscoll said, adding that he knows they are playing football “just because they love the sport. They just want to be on the field and play. Just like everyone else.”



Martin sets the tone for the offensive line. As the center, she is in charge of the line calls.

Poland center Emma Martin leads the offense to the line of scrimmage at practice on Oct. 4. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“It has a lot of stress level because I also have to make the blocking calls. I have to know a lot more than just what a normal lineman has to know,” Martin said. “But, I love it honestly. I wouldn’t want it to be any other way.”

Poland coach Gus LeBlanc said of Martin, “She’s sharp. She’s really the leader of the offensive line. They listen to her. She’s kind of the boss.”

The Knights play in Class D, the state’s smallest enrollment class in 11-sided football. Poland started the season with four straight wins, the first time the school reached 4-0 in its 21-season football history.

But in subsequent games, the offense bogged down against stronger opponents that emphasized stopping the Knights’ inside running game. At Wells, Poland generated just nine yards of offense in the first half of a 32-6 loss.


The next week, a 28-8 homecoming loss to Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale, Martin and Rioux were often asked to block Ramblers’ linemen like 270-pound Barrett Perkins and 291-pound Isaiah Trott.

“It was definitely a jump up to high school from like seventh and eighth grade because obviously testosterone levels go up and then you’re playing against guys who have been in the gym for like four years,” said Rioux, who began playing tackle football in sixth grade.

Cook said it wasn’t an easy situation for Rioux to move into the starting lineup to replace O’Driscoll, who was hurt in the Knights’ third game of the season at Freeport. At halftime, the decision was made to move Rioux, previously the backup at left guard, to the starting spot.

“She came in and did what she was supposed to,” Cook said. “Nolan was one of our best players. She got thrown into a situation where it’s hard to fill those shoes, and she’s done everything she can to fill those.”


Martin comes from a football family. The Christmas tree is decorated with football-themed ornaments, the family has season tickets to the New England Patriots, and parents Schan and Kimberly Martin own the Gridiron Restaurant & Sports Pub in Lewiston.


Poland center Emma Martin goes through a drill at practice earlier this month. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Emma Martin started playing football when she was 5. The first few years were flag football with the switch to tackle coming in third grade, with her father coaching the early years. And she had her siblings playing alongside her. Her older sister, Izzy Martin, also started in high school for Poland, graduating in 2022.

“I’ve always had my sister play with me except for a few years. And (coaches) kind of knew me because of my sister so it was a lot easier.”

Their brother, Brady Martin, also played football, as safety on defense and a fullback on offense in high school. He graduated earlier this year.

“And had his little sister protecting him,” Emma Martin said with a laugh.

Schan Martin said that when Brady started playing flag football, it just seemed natural to have the girls play, too. That didn’t change when the kids switched to tackle football.

When it comes to his youngest, Schan Martin said, “She’s just a strong girl, and she’s mentally right for the sport. She goes up against guys all the time, and there’s not many guys that have dominated her at all.”


Poland senior quarterback Dylan Cook said, “I don’t think (Martin) has anything left to prove to us. We’ve been with her for so long. Obviously she does have a hard job with the blocking calls. … I certainly trust her as much as anybody else out there.”


Martin and Rioux participate in other sports.

Nicole Rioux, the starting right guard at Poland, has been playing football since sixth grade. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Martin is on the competitive cheering squad in the winter and plays third base on the softball team. She is also the senior class president and involved in a laundry list of school activities. Rioux is a forward on the girls’ basketball team, the left fielder in softball and has been the stage manager for the school’s drama productions.

For each, football offers something different from their other sports and activities.

“It’s more of a feeling that you’re part of something bigger. With football, there’s so many moving parts,” Rioux said. “It’s a fascinating sport because there are so many different combinations. And, it’s such a family sport. All around you feel really valued. And it’s such a fun sport, too.”

Martin said, “I really like the fact that I don’t get looked at as a woman. I get looked at like a football player.”

She also believes she has been, and can be, an inspiration to other like-minded girls who want to play football.

“I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘Oh, my gosh. You’re the girl who plays football. You’ve inspired me to play football.’ I just like that whole sense,” Martin said. “And I also have so many brothers with me. I’ve grown up with them. They’re all brothers. They’re family. So I just feel like any other football player.”

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