When the GHSA sanctioned girls flag football last January as a sport, Richmond Hill High School athletic director Mickey Bayens didn’t hesitate in letting the organization know the Wildcats would have a team.
When it comes to athletics, Bayens is progressive and always looking for ways to enhance the high school experience for RHHS students.
The next step was securing a coach for the team, which will begin play this fall. The season, per the GHSA, will open on Oct. 12 and conclude Dec. 10 with the state championship game at Georgia State University in Atlanta.
Landing a coach proved to be easier than anticipated as Tony Dragon had decided in January to give up coaching boys football where he was the linebackers coach for the Wildcats.
“I had coached boys football for 17 years,” Dragon said. “At about the time I made the decision to give boys football, the school decided to have a girls team. I expressed an interest and got the job.”
The introduction of flag football is a result of the Atlanta Falcons and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation’s commitment to and support of the sport.
The Falcons and the Blank Foundation, concerned about the low number of sports offered for girls in Georgia, approached the Gwinnett County school system in 2018 about having a team at each of its 19 high schools.
A year later with the Falcons and the Blank Foundation providing full funding, the program soon expanded to Cherokee, Forsyth, Henry and Muskogee counties. This made 55 schools now fielding teams.
After seeing the interest generated — Mill Creek, a Class 7A school in Jackson County had nearly 400 girls try out — the GHSA decided to sanction it as a championship sport.
Schools were then polled to see which ones would field teams this fall. A total of 155 schools notified the GHSA that they will have a team.
Rather than the normal region setup, flag football teams were placed in areas. Richmond Hill is grouped with Calvary Day School, Effingham County, Portal, Claxton, New Hampstead and Windsor Forest. Teams will play a 10-game schedule.
Dragon also applied to the Falcons for a grant and the school got $3,000 to help with startup expenses. Tiffany Gray, a math teacher at RHHS, will be Dragon’s assistant.
Fall teams normally have tryouts and practice in the spring, but the COVID-19 pandemic put everything on pause.
“We had one meeting to see how many girls would be interested,” Dragon said. “We had 36 show up, and we had a second meeting scheduled but we never got to hold it.
“There’s a learning curve involved for everyone. This is a sport so new not a lot of females have thrown or caught a football in a structural setting. They may have done it in the backyard but this is different.”
The game is played with seven players per side and the field is 80 yards long. It is a low-contact sport, Dragon said, with no blocking. Tackles are done by pulling off the flag.
“We’re kind of in limbo like everyone else,” Dragon said. “We’re hoping that maybe in July we can have a couple of weeks of skill development where we can work on snapping, hand-offs, throwing and catching the ball.
“We can’t have organized practices until October, but we can still have 4-on-1s.”
A 4-on-1, Dragon explained, is where one coach can work with four players.
“We still have a lot of work and details to work out,” Dragon said. “The girls that came to the one meeting were excited, and once school starts, we may have more show an interest. I’m looking forward to it.”
The game is actually similar to tackle football with an emphasis on the safety of the players. Some of the rules differences are:
A contest consists of four 12-minute quarters with a running clock except for the final two minutes, when it can be stopped for different situations.
There are no kickoffs, either to start the game or after scores, with the ball being placed at the 14-yard line. The field is divided into four sections with markings at the 20, 40, 40, 20 and goal lines. To get a first down a team must advance the ball past each of the line markings.
Touchdowns are worth six points, there is no kicking of extra points or field goals, although punting and punt returns are allowed. An extra point try from the 1-yard line is worth one point, two from 10-yards out and three from the 20.