Ladies, it’s time to ball.
Thanks to the New York Jets and Nike, eight Super Football Conference programs will field girls flag football teams this spring playing a seven-game regular season, one game a week, ending with a championship tournament and the final rounds possibly at MetLife Stadium.
The eight schools involved are: Ramapo, Indian Hills, Passaic Tech, Shabazz, Dickinson, Irvington, East Orange Campus and Morristown. The goal stated by the Jets is to add schools in the coming years, with the hope that the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association sanctions the sport by 2024.
“We really want to grow the game of football,” said Jets community relations vice president Jesse Linder, “and make it more accessible to females, specifically high school girls. We feel the benefits derived from playing football should be available to all genders. It shouldn’t just be a boy-only sport.”
Florida, Georgia and Alaska (yes, Alaska), are the only states that currently offer girls high school flag football. The Jets also partner to sponsor a league in conjunction with the PSAL in New York City.
For the immediate future, girls flag football will be a club sport for New Jersey high schools, meaning that girls who participate in another spring sport are eligible to play. The first New Jersey girls flag football game is scheduled for the week of April 19, with practice starting April 1.
“What we want to be able to tell, this year and the next couple of years, is tell [NJSIAA chief operating officer] Colleen Maguire and the rest of the state how successful this league can be and that there is an appetite for high school girls to make this a sport,” Linder said.
Interest is already building
The response by North Jersey athletic directors has been positive. Ramapo athletic director Ron Anello said 50 girls already replied to an email expressing interest and that the Green Raiders would be coached by Eileen Shemon, a teacher in the school’s physical education department.
“When I came home and told my wife and daughters about this, they were like, ‘they should have had this when I was in high school’,” Anello laughed. “I think our girls are really excited about it.”
The game play is roughly similar to the 7-on-7 played by boys high school teams in the summer. Linder said it’s an 80-yard field, with end zones at both sides, but that there are different markings on the field. Clearly, there is no tackling. Girls wear flags around their waists, and play ends when the ballcarrier’s flags are pulled away.
Passaic Tech athletic director Nic Nese said the Jets offered to deliver a field to the schools participating. The Jets are also providing a coaching stipend and a $1,000 scholarship to a senior player. Linder added that the Jets have a similar program with the Public Schools Athletic League in New York City.
“The Jets have gone above and beyond,” Nese said. “We feel blessed to be one of the schools involved.”
Nese said he’d heard from 40 girls who are interested, but he hasn’t formally named a coach for the Bulldogs.
At Indian Hills, athletic director Lorenzo Baratta said his initial email received more than 20 replies from girls who are interested in playing flag football. He hasn’t named a coach yet.
“I think it’s going to be great,” Baratta said. “We just have to figure out the logistics.”
How will this all work?
Thanks to COVID-19, the spring high school sports calendar is already crowded and field space is at a premium, but all three athletic director said they think they can make it work.
“That’s what we do,” Anello said with a laugh.
Flag football games can be played under the lights, and Nese said he just wants to keep the practices from overlapping for girls involved in two activities.
In the grand scheme of things, girls flag football would seem to fit nicely into New Jersey’s high school athletics landscape. The last sport added was girls wrestling three years ago. Clearly there is interest in flag football, although we will have to see whether this works better in the spring or as a fall offering. Georgia and Florida both play flag football in the fall.
“We keep talking about opportunities for female athletes,” Nese said. “This is right up there.”
For now, Linder said the plan is to have the championship game at MetLife Stadium or at the Jets facility in Florham Park. That will depend on COVID and the availabilities of the venue.
Just think, this school year we didn’t have any boys high school championship football games anywhere. n June, the girls will get a chance.
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Darren Cooper is a high school sports columnist for NorthJersey.com. For full access to live scores, breaking news and analysis from our Varsity Aces team, subscribe today. To get breaking news directly to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter and download our app.