Mili Hernandez — the woman as soon as barred from a soccer match for wanting like a boy — is now a high participant in her state with nationwide group aspirations

  • Mili Hernandez went viral at age 8 when her group was barred from a soccer match over her seems.
  • Now 12, Hernandez is likely one of the finest gamers within the state and thriving.
  • USWNT icon Abby Wambach instructed Insider she resonated with the expertise as a lady with quick hair.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Mili Hernandez was only a child when she first made headlines.

However 4 years later, the budding star is eyeing fame based mostly on her brilliance on the soccer subject somewhat than the discrimination that famously stored her sidelined what seems like ages in the past.

“I keep in mind somewhat bit,” Hernandez, now 12, instructed Insider. “I do not give it some thought in any respect as a result of it was necessary at the moment however not anymore.”

When Mili Hernandez was 8 years outdated, her group was booted from the finals of a match as a result of she ‘seems like a boy’


Mili Hernandez (proper) dribbles throughout a sport.

Gerardo Hernandez

Hernandez’s aptitude for The Lovely Recreation was obvious from an early age. Simply three years after she first began taking part in soccer, she joined forces with a group of 11-year-olds as a result of her expertise degree was up to now past that of gamers her age.

And even then, Hernandez was clearly a star for the Azzuri Cachorros Chicas. In June of 2017, she cruised as she led the squad on a dominant run by means of an area competitors close to her hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. However as soon as the Chicas reached the match’s championship sport, every thing modified.

Moments earlier than Hernandez and her teammates had been set to take the sector for the finals, their head coach acquired some startling information; the group had been disqualified from the Springfield Soccer Membership match as a result of somebody had complained that Hernandez — who wore her hair quick — was a boy. And whereas the occasion’s organizers insisted {that a} typo left the Azzuri Cachorros star listed as male on the group’s roster, the Hernandez household was satisfied that the 8-year-old’s bodily look performed a big function.

“Simply because I seem like a boy does not imply I’m a boy,” Hernandez told local television station WOWT 6. “They do not have a cause to kick the entire membership out.”


After a tearful response from Hernandez and utter disbelief from her mother and father, what adopted was an outpouring of help the likes of which the Hernandez household might by no means have imagined. Her story, first picked up by local news outlets in Nebraska, unfold nationwide when The New York Times, CBS News, Sports Illustrated, NBC News, The Washington Post, Forbes, and extra started sharing it with their audiences. And later, when Hernandez’s Chicas teammates chopped their very own hair in solidarity after follow, ESPN ran a story on that, too.

Then the titans of ladies’s sports activities caught wind of what occurred to Hernandez. US Girls’s Nationwide Workforce icon Mia Hamm invited her to join a soccer camp she and former USWNT teammate Kristine Lilly hosted in close by Wisconsin. Billie Jean King — the tennis champion finest identified for leveling the taking part in subject for ladies within the sport — inspired the budding star to “dream massive” via Twitter. And USWNT all-time main scorer Abby Wambach posted a video to Instagram providing help to Hernandez earlier than penning an op-ed for TIME. She described going through related adversity throughout her soccer profession.

mia hamm abby wambach.JPG

Mia Hamm (proper) jumps into Abby Wambach’s arms as they have fun a USWNT victory.


“It was overwhelming for somewhat bit, but in addition encouraging for [Mili],” her father, Gerardo Hernandez, instructed Insider. “I truly cried that folks from that degree reached out to my child to help her. It was an emotional second.”

Based on her dad, Mili did not perceive the total extent of the whirlwind sweeping her up however “was excited in regards to the scenario” with the famous person athletes, so the sting of her preliminary ouster from the match subsided shortly. Her confidence by no means waned, she mentioned, and her father insisted that she even began taking part in higher after the incident that fateful day in June.

Hernandez nonetheless rocks a pixie reduce as one of many high gamers within the state

Quick ahead 4 years, and never a lot has modified for Hernandez. She nonetheless wears her hair quick, and she or he nonetheless loves the sport of soccer. She says she “would play all day” if solely she had been allowed. Sixth-grade tasks usually get in the best way of that dream, however she performs for a number of groups in order that she will maximize her time on the pitch.

After the 2017 incident, Hernandez spent one other season with the Azzuri Cachorros earlier than taking her abilities to FC Roja, an all-girls non-profit soccer membership the place she performs for 2 groups. Not solely is Hernandez a star for the highest group in her age bracket, however she additionally “has the talent, data, and talent to play up an age” with the 2007 premier squad helmed by husband-wife teaching duo Stephen and LeeShell Lewis.



Mili Hernandez (backside row, third from proper) poses along with her 2007 ROJA Premier group.

Gerardo Hernandez

“Mili is a drive on the sector,” LeeShell Lewis instructed Insider. “Her presence and ball-handling abilities simply make her one of many high gamers within the state … Her talent set on the sector is past her years, and she or he is so motivated to proceed to develop and develop.”

“She has the most effective soccer IQs at her age within the state,” she added. “We at all times say ‘she’s all in’ when at follow or on the sector. She’s simply enjoyable to observe.”

Hernandez’s dominance on the pitch has attracted loads of consideration and, with that, loads of naysayers

Lewis mentioned she’s watched opposing groups goal her star participant for her look on a number of events. As leaders of the group, she and her husband at all times attempt to “use these alternatives and others we now have skilled as a group and membership to show all of ladies to be higher [and] empower them as gamers and as younger girls to stay robust and persevere when others are being ignorant.”

“We have now had a number of incidents with out-of-state groups,” Lewis mentioned. “There hasn’t been a difficulty with refs or gamers pondering she was a boy however opposing mother and father on the sidelines yelling ‘get that boy off the sector.’ … It is heartbreaking and disappointing that the hate Mili and different women in our membership have confronted coming from grown adults who ought to know higher.”


Mili Hernandez strikes the ball.

Gerardo Hernandez

However the hate Lewis describes has not slowed Hernandez down within the least. Fairly the alternative, truly, as Lewis says, Hernandez’s “confidence as a younger girl and participant has grown within the final couple of years” and that she’s “actually come out of her shell… and located her voice on the group.”

Hernandez’s mother and father have noticed the identical phenomenon. Teammates, even those who’re older, usually hunt down their daughter for further recommendation and steerage, they mentioned. And although Hernandez is of course quiet and “absorbs every thing,” she has no scarcity of self-assurance as soon as she’s on the pitch.

“Mili’s at all times exceeding, and as a dad or mum, you need your youngsters to exceed,” Mili’s mom, Maria Hernandez, instructed Insider. “Her dad is at all times attempting to problem her into doing extra, into doing higher, and into having the arrogance that she will do it. He has a can-do mentality that spills over into Mili.”

That confidence has propelled Hernandez to the higher echelons of the game — and onto the nationwide group observe

Hernandez is concerned in Nebraska’s Olympic Growth Program (ODP), a extremely selective soccer atmosphere run by means of US Youth Soccer that works to “establish and supply alternatives for prime potential gamers” with an eye fixed in direction of nationwide group publicity and preparation.


Mili Hernandez (second from left) poses with Nebraska ODP teammates.

Gerardo Hernandez

Merely put, ODP is a large deal.

Of the 23 gamers featured on the US Girls’s Nationwide Workforce’s 2019 World Cup-winning roster, 21 of them had played for an ODP squad of their youth. And contemplating Hernandez says her “dream is to be skilled soccer participant” and that she hopes to go well with up for the USWNT sometime, two consecutive years of ODP coaching and competitors are a promising begin.

“I did not know that the ladies within the World Cup as soon as performed on ODP groups,” Hernandez mentioned. “That is thrilling realizing that I’m following of their footsteps.”

USWNT icon Abby Wambach sees herself in Mili Hernandez

With 184 objectives in simply 255 appearances for the nationwide group, Wambach was one of many best scorers to ever play for the pink, white, and blue. However not so lengthy earlier than she turned a bona fide legend and the second-leading worldwide objective scorer — for each women and men — within the historical past of the game, Wambach was only a child combating lots of the similar challenges Hernandez has confronted.

abby wambach

Abby Wambach.

AP Photograph/Wealthy Schultz

Wambach spoke to Insider about battling adversity on the sector and “not feeling like I belonged anymore” as a younger participant.

“Once I take into consideration my youthful self, I take into consideration [how] I performed on a boys’ group, and I received teased,” Wambach instructed Insider. “I keep in mind the time when my mother and I began speaking about possibly it is time for me to begin going and taking part in with the ladies as a result of it began to turn out to be an issue socially.”

For almost all of her skilled and USWNT careers, Wambach wore her hair quick — very like Hernandez did on the time of that notorious 2017 incident and nonetheless does to at the present time.

abby wambach

Abby Wambach (middle, carrying No. 20) usually had her gender questioned due to her tall stature and quick hair.

AP Photograph/Ralph Freso

Between her ‘do, above-average peak of 5-foot-11, and muscular construct, Wambach usually acquired inappropriate and demoralizing questions on her gender.

“I do know that that is been mentioned about me all through my life, all through my profession,” Wambach mentioned. “They needed me to get gender examined in numerous international locations. Lots of people on Twitter have bullied me and possibly tried to get me gender examined as a result of I used to be too manly or I used to be too massive.”

“I get what it seems like for Mili to expertise wanting a sure method or presenting a sure method, not feeling such as you belong,” she added.

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Abby Wambach celebrates the USWNT’s gold medal victory on the 2012 Olympics.

REUTERS/Mike Blake

Six US Soccer Athlete of the 12 months awards, two Olympic gold medals, a World Cup championship, a FIFA World Participant of the 12 months honor, and an AP Athlete of the 12 months nod later, Wambach is extra outfitted than nearly anybody on the planet to ship recommendation to Hernandez.

“In the event you nonetheless are true to who you might be, and also you by no means depart from your self to make any individual else really feel extra snug, you at all times keep true to your self and make different folks really feel uncomfortable,” Wambach mentioned. “That’s what I used to be attempting to relay within the conversations that I had along with her, as a result of on the finish of the day, particularly if she’s feeling it on the sector, particularly if she’s superior on the sector and crushing it in sure methods, all people’s going to have an opinion.”


Mili Hernandez.

Gerardo Hernandez

“My hope is that everyone who hears the story simply stays true to themselves and lets all people on the market be uncomfortable. It is no matter it’s,” she added. “And I hope like heck that Mili simply retains going out and killing it and proves to the world that whoever she needs to be, she’s allowed to be.”

She’s doing simply that.

“It does not matter what folks suppose,” Hernandez mentioned. “I’d say to my youthful self, simply preserve going and do not cease doing what you’re keen on.”

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