She first played in a public Pop Warner league, then moved along with her teammates to the Catholic Youth Organization league in fifth grade. After one season without a hitch, she learned last fall that an overlooked boys-only rule would be enforced. The archdiocese, though, agreed to let her finish the season.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput is now reviewing the ban, with a decision expected next month after a panel of coaches, parents and doctors weigh in.
"Traditionally, football is a boys-only sport due to its full contact nature," the church said in a statement. "Most parents and players have preferred this; some now disagree."
Caroline sent Chaput an email in January, explaining that her Catholic youth league team had been the best chapter in her burgeoning, three-season sports career.
By then, she and her parents, George and Marycecelia Pla, had taken to the airwaves to lobby for a rule change. An online petition has attracted more than 100,000 signatures, and Caroline recently appeared on Ellen DeGeneris' show as well as newscasts.
"I'm perplexed that you would contact me last, after publicizing your situation in both the national and regional media," Chaput wrote in a January email shared by the family. "That kind of approach has no effect on my decision-making. CYO rules exist for good reason."
The Women's Sports Foundation believes there are instead good reasons to reverse the rule — and not just for the sake of girls.
"What the diocese is missing is all the wonderful things that come out of co-ed sports. The mutual respect that lasts a lifetime between girls and boys," said lawyer Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist in swimming who now is senior director of advocacy for the Women's Sports Foundation.