Her team was disqualified from a local championship in 2017 after someone complained that the then-8-year-old was a boy.
Mili Hernandez has loved soccer for as long as she can remember. Her aptitude for the sport became evident in her performance on the field soon after she began playing at the age of 5 and within three years, the then-8-year-old was bumped up to a team full of 11-year-olds. Even in a team of older players, Hernandez — sporting her signature short hair — proved herself to be a star for the Azzuri Cachorros Chicas. With her talent, it should've surprised no one when the young girl made headlines a few years ago. However, the incident that made the news was far from something worth celebrating.
Only Sure Thing in Mili Hernandez 'Hair Too Short' Soccer Controversy: Adults Ruin Everything https://t.co/MkK9t7naWB pic.twitter.com/3ExgiHllhK— Cara Jacobs (@CaraJacobs70) June 11, 2017
According to Insider, Hernandez's all-girls team was set to take the field for the final of a local championship in June 2017 when their head coach received some startling news: the team had been disqualified from the tournament. Someone had complained that Hernandez was a boy and the complaint was amplified by a typo on a registration form, which listed her as a boy. Convinced it was a misunderstanding he could sort out, Hernandez's dad, Gerardo, took her and her insurance card — which lists her gender — and headed to the site of the tournament.
Young girl once barred from a soccer tournament for looking like a boy is now a top player in her state. https://t.co/8lR25TkVVa— Sports Insider (@SportsInsider) May 30, 2021
"I was mad; I never had that problem before. She's been playing so long in different tournaments," he told The Washington Post at the time. "I don't want no problems with nobody, but that wasn't the right way to treat people. Why they want to tell my girl looks like a boy?" However, when he showed up at the tournament, the tournament officials refused to even look at the insurance card. "They told us the thing was decided," he said. Although the incident left Hernandez in tears and her family in disbelief, they soon received an outpouring of support the likes of which they could never have imagined.
Nebraska girls cut hair short in honor of disqualified soccer teammate Mili Hernandez https://t.co/lx535AfPb8— Helen Williams (@hmwsports) June 9, 2017
ESPN picked up the story when Hernandez's teammates chopped off their own hair in solidarity after practice, and everyone from US Women's National Team icon Mia Hamm to tennis champion Billie Jean King to USWNT all-time leading scorer Abby Wambach reached out to the young player. "It was overwhelming for a little bit, but also encouraging for [Mili]," her father said. "I actually cried that people from that level reached out to my kid to support her. It was an emotional moment." Although Hernandez didn't fully understand the extent of it all, she "was excited about the situation" with the superstar athletes, he added.
Hernandez believes the outpouring of support helped diminish the sting of her initial ouster from the tournament. In fact, according to her proud father, she even started playing better after it happened. "I remember a little bit," Hernandez — who is now 12 — said of the incident. "I don't think about it at all because it was important at that time but not anymore." She still wears her hair short and she still loves the game of soccer enough to "play all day" if only she were allowed. She is now a part of FC Roja, an all-girls non-profit soccer club where she plays for two teams.
8-yr-old Mili Hernandez was kicked out of a soccer tournament bc she was mistaken for a boy.— Splinter (@splinter_news) June 7, 2017
Soccer legend @AbbyWambach had her back: pic.twitter.com/DMqvu1BDQW
"Mili is a force on the field. Her presence and ball-handling skills easily make her one of the top players in the state... Her skill set on the field is beyond her years, and she is so motivated to continue to grow and develop," said LeeShell Lewis, one half of the husband-wife coaching duo behind the 2007 premier squad. "She has one of the best soccer IQs at her age in the state. We always say 'she's all in' when at practice or on the field. She's just fun to watch." Mili's self-assurance on the pitch has already propelled her onto the national team track. She is involved in Nebraska's Olympic Development Program (ODP), which is a highly selective soccer environment run through US Youth Soccer that works to "identify and provide opportunities for high potential players" with an eye towards national team exposure and preparation.
Stop policing kids!— Rachael is dabbling in Farmers Markets (@spangelork) April 6, 2021
As a little girl I had short hair because it was the 80s. I can't tell you the number of times I was called "son" or boy.
Soccer tournament bans 8-year-old girl’s entire team because she ‘looks like a boy’ | Sports Illustrated https://t.co/DN5TVod8PM
Of the 23 players featured on the US Women's National Team's 2019 World Cup-winning roster, 21 had played for an ODP squad in their youth. Hernandez, whose "dream is to be a professional soccer player," hopes to play for the USWNT someday. "I didn't know that the women in the World Cup once played on ODP teams," she said. "That's exciting knowing that I am following in their footsteps."