Friday Night football returned to Jerome T Osborne Sr. Stadium on March 19, with a twist.
Girls from News-Herald coverage area schools were the ones making highlight catches and scoring touchdowns, thanks to a new high school girls flag football league.
The league, run by the Northeast Ohio Flag Football Coaches Association, opened its season.
The brainchild of Mentor defensive line coach Bob Berwald, the league opened with Berwald’s team falling to former Perry coach Matt Rosati’s team. But wins and losses didn’t matter too much on a night that will be remembered for a long time as the launch of the area’s first high school girls flag football league.
“It’s giving them the opportunity to do something different and be a part of something,” Berwald said. “That was the whole foundation of this when we set out to do it. It was awesome to see them come out here and be a part of this.”
The six teams that make up the league feature 65 girls from several News-Herald coverage area schools. Berwald coaches Mentor, which fielded enough players to have two teams, while Rosati was on the opposite sideline coaching the Pirates team.
Berkshire, Kirtland and a team with players from NDCL and Lake Catholic round out the league that will play Friday nights at the JTO.
Berwald has high hopes for the future of the sport in Ohio.
“We hope to get this ultimately sanctioned by the Ohio High School Athletic Association,” Berwald said. “The driving force behind that is continuing to get girls excited and bringing more exposure to it.
“There are seven other states right now that have this sanctioned and there are 15 colleges offering scholarship money for girls to play.”
Payge Silvis, a junior at Perry, was Rosati’s choice for quarterback in the first game, and threw the first touchdown in the league’s history. After the struggles of 2020, Silvis was grateful for the opportunity to be a part of something like this with her friends.
“I’ve always thought about playing football with the guys, but I play volleyball as well,” Silvis said. “As soon as I heard about this from Coach Rosati, I was all about it. We have a good group of people. It was so nice to get out here and play with friends. We all get along so well, so it’s fun to be out here.”
At the conclusion of the first game, players were surprised with an appearance by Browns Chief of Staff Callie Brownson. Brownson posed with players for a picture before offering words of encouragement.
“What a cool time for you guys to be doing this,” Brownson said. “I’m a huge advocate of what you are doing, the ceiling for you guys is (high), whether you want to play or you want to coach. It’s such a cool time to be a girl and be in football.”
Brownson spent the rest of the night roaming the sidelines speaking with players — and hyping them up, too.
For Silvis and the rest of the players on the field, it made the night that much more special.
“It was really cool to meet someone with that kind of power,” Silvis said. “Especially being a woman, women empowering women is a huge thing.”
Brownson made history in 2020 as the first woman to coach a position group in a regular season game. She also is a former football player, playing for the D.C. Divas of the Women’s Football Alliance from 2010 to 2017.
While with D.C., Brownson won two championships and also helped the U.S. women’s national team win a pair of gold medals in 2013 and 2017 at the International Federation of American Football’s world championships.