We first learned about eight-year-old Ella Spiller from a Coppell BubbleLife reader who identified herself as simply, "A Big Ella Fan."
The reader, who said she was a Coppell "soccer mom," said she first came across Ella at an under-five soccer game years ago, when she said she watched "this longish-haired boy play an unbelievable half of soccer."
"Our boys were dumbstruck, having won every other game that season, and at halftime, I overheard one my my son's teammates say, 'why would someone name a boy Ella?' to which my son replied, 'dude, she's a girl,'" the Coppell woman said. As parents and players debated the little girl's gender on the sidelines, an opponent of Ella's asked her directly if she was a girl.
"I felt awful for the player until she very nonchalantly shrugged and answered, 'last time I checked,' and then proceeded to demolish our team for the second half," the "Ella fan" said.
She continued, "As a woman, I felt myself cheering for this little girl, not just because of her amazing athletic ability but because of the quiet confidence she exuded. I was amazed that this child was so unaffected by societal gender roles... and that at five, she wasn't embarrassed by all the stares and dumbstruck players (and parents) that (gasp!) she was a girl kicking the boy's butts—but instead—she was just a kid wanting to play the game."
The Coppell reader noted how Ella's peers—her own son included—have come to embrace her prowess on the soccer field, though it's easier now that her son plays alongside her rather than against her.
But why did we really think Miss Ella was worthy of a community profile on BubbleLife? Her mother, Allison, was "told multiple times that she would lose the baby during her pregnancy, and then Ella was born with two holes in her heart, spending weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit" before making a full recovery and turning into an ace soccer athlete, the Ella fan said.
Finally, our reader told us that above all else, Ella is a kind and humble child.
"Her character far outshines her athletic talent. She is truly the most thoughtful, polite and humble child I have ever met. She is so positive and encouraging to teammates and is always the first to help a teammate out. Ella deflects personal accolades and often answers with 'Thanks, but did you see (so-and-so's) cross, it was awesome!' She embodies the word 'team,'" the Ella fan said.
Allison Spiller, Ella's mom, was kind enough to answer some questions about her young soccer star for BubbleLife, which you can read below:
Angela Washeck: Tell us a bit about Ella.
Allison Spiller: Ella is eight and in second grade at Austin Elementary. She has two brothers—Christian, who is a sophomore at Coppell High School, and Liam, who is in kindergarten. Currently, she plays rec soccer on the Gladiators with Coppell Youth Soccer Association, club soccer with Greg Williams' Andromeda team and YMCA basketball for SpiderMavs. She grew up on the soccer field with her dad, who is a former soccer player and now a coach, as well as with her older brother's soccer team. Ella is the ultimate tomboy and has only worn boy clothes since she began throwing fits if I tried to dress her in anything remotely "girly." She loves soccer, basketball, football—anything athletic—as well as hip hop dance and skateboarding. All of her friends are boys, and she is almost always outside playing something sports-related.
AW: How long has she been playing sports? Which one is her favorite?
AS: [Ella has been] on a soccer team since age four or five with the Y, but she thought she was part of her older brother's team since she "practiced" with them since she was walking. She started playing basketball a year before kindergarten with a group of boys who were in kindergarten at Town Center with the Y. Soccer is her favorite.
AW: When did you first notice Ella's exceptional talent on the soccer field?
AS: We noticed she was a strong soccer player when she started playing with the YMCA. It wasn't just her skill but her very intense competitive nature.
AW: How did you prepare Ella for being a successful athlete? How do you continue to help prepare her?
AS: Ella can be very intense and competitive, so we have tried to instill some perspective about having fun, being a true teammate and that learning to lose is just as important as learning to handle a win. Since she is the only girl on her teams and in her leagues, she does get more attention than she would otherwise—so we have tried to teach her to be humble and gracious. She's very lucky that she has her dad, who has lots of experience as a player and coach to guide her.
AW: Do you find that folks in Coppell (her competitors included) are complimentary of Ella's talent? Are they accepting if/when her team plays against boys?
AS: Ella has only ever played on a boys team in the boys league, so I don't have any other experience to compare, but I think that for the most part, the people we have run into are very complimentary if she has a good game—especially the moms. The boys early on, and new competitors from time to time, may say something about her being a girl, but she has played with most of them for years, and most of them have become her friends. A mom recently told me that he only wanted to invite the boys in his class to his party but then put Ella's name on the "invite" list. He said it was because Ella wasn't really a girl. Ella does not want to be treated any differently than her teammates, and sometimes it bothers her that people make a big deal of her being girl doing well in a game against boys. If I understand her correctly, she wants people to think she did well and not have the girl vs. boy thing be a qualifier—but I could be wrong.
AW: What do you find unique about youth sports in Coppell?
AS: We have enjoyed being part of the youth sports in Coppell and have met some great parents and players. Ella's dad has coached teams since our oldest was playing at age five, so we have been involved for over 11 years. Coppell seems to have a great group of athletes at all ages—very talented with the right attitude/perspective (from our high school son's group to our kindergarten team). Maybe because of all the talent, it can also be a very competitive group of players and parents at times—my husband included.