EAST ORANGE, NJ — Kaleena Koon wanted to give her daughter a chance to play football.
But she figured something safer would be better, namely flag football.
Indeed, girls flag football has grown in popularity, especially in New Jersey.
Koon helped start the East Orange Recreation girls flag football program this spring. It’s the first girls youth flag football program in Essex County, she said.
The team includes 26 girls from grades 5-7 and competes in a Paterson-based league. Koon is the head coach, Tyrone Miles is the defensive coordinator and Carl Brackin is the offensive coordinator.
“So, football is life at home,” said Koon in an email to the Record-Transcript. “My husband coaches my son and has played most of his life. The idea for the program came about really because my daughter wanted to play tackle. Her father and I let her play a year of tackle and it went well, but we wanted something a little safer.”
Koon said the late Mike Davis, who was the beloved public address announcer for East Orange Campus High School home football games at Robeson Stadium, took her to a Giants game where she met the Staten Island Giants, a girls flag football team that won the NFL flag championship. The Staten Island Giants were invited to the Giants game to ring the pre-game bell.
“That’s when I knew it was possible,” said Koon about starting the EO Rec team.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic halted the start of the program. “Once we got back, I was very persistent with making sure this program happened. I’m overjoyed (by) the response from the girls and the community, and I’m happy that I didn’t give up, because we are now the first girls flag football team on the youth level in Essex County. We’ve created a feeder program and partnered with our high school girls for support at their games. The overall goal is for young women to understand they have options to do whatever it is they want and doors will continuously open.”
Photos Courtesy of Kaleena Koon