By Samantha Rutt, Abigail Bender, Kelsie Radziski
Suffolk County’s SectionXI introduced varsity girls’ flag football to its roster of spring sports for the first official season this March. The addition has sparked conversation about the history, development, and future of women in sports.
“Yes, we are girls, and we can play the same sport as the boys just like soccer [and] basketball,” Alyssa Gulino, the coach for the North Babylon High School girls’ flag football team, said.
The new varsity-recognized sport has attracted many girls, with 30 on the Patchogue-Medford team, 45 on the South Huntington team, and even more on others.
“We had over 50 girls tryout for the team, so I am now looking to add a junior varsity team in the spring of 2024,” Jason Friesen, the athletic director of North Babylon High School, said.
Participating schools have also seen large amounts of community and school support since the program began.
“Since word went out that we were having a team, there has been a tremendous buzz throughout the district,” Robert DeSilva, the assistant coach for the Patchogue Medford High School girls flag football team, said.
The flag football program was first introduced last year as a trial, eight schools across the county participated.
“Last school year, all schools were offered the opportunity to participate in it as a pilot program,” David Barth, the athletic supervisor for the South Huntington school district, said. “There were eight schools in Suffolk County that participated in it, and we were one of them.”
The pilot program was so successful Suffolk County added 13 additional teams to this year’s program. Nassau County also added teams to their varsity rosters, contributing to the conversation of women’s progression in sports.
The National Football League, or the NFL, has been a major contributor in girls’ flag football coming to life.
“The NFL sparked it,” Phil Torregrosa, SectionXI Chairman of Flag Football, said. “The Jets took section 11 and section 8, the Buffalo Bills took some upper New York State sections, [and] the Giants took some New Jersey sections. Each of those NFL teams work together to pull in New Jersey [and] New York teams into flag football.”
New York’s three NFL teams each made donations of $5,000 per school, and they provided new uniforms for each team.
Before SectionXI’s establishment of flag football as a seasonal sport, it was primarily only seen in the context of one-off Powder Puff football games. Powder Puff games have been held as charity events where girls play flag football and boys act as cheerleaders.
“In my lifetime I’ve seen incredible change when it comes to women’s sports,” Richard Russo, the girls’ flag football coach at Ward Melville High School, said. “I remember when I was in high school, there were not that many women’s sports at all. Flash forward to now, my daughter played four sports.”
In 1995, the United States National Women’s Flag Football Association, or NWFFA, was established, with the International Women’s Flag Football Association, or IWFFA, following shortly after in 1997.
Despite the recent prevalence of women’s flag football, this year marks the first time it has made it onto the varsity school sport roster on Long Island.
“It is such an amazing feeling coaching the first ever girls’ varsity flag football team with coach Rohme,” Gulino said. “It is so inspiring for not only our players but the future generations to come.”