Flag football presents new opportunities for girls

Written by Neal Embry (all photos by Erin Nelson)

With the Alabama High School Athletic Association sanctioning girls flag football for the 2021-22 school year, doors were opened for many student-athletes, including those at both Homewood High School and John Carroll Catholic High School.

This year is the first year the sport was made available to students.

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Homewood’s Chandler Binkley (28) throws a pass.

Homewood High School

Having flag football available for female student-athletes means a lot, Homewood coach Rebecca Shields said.

“That’s really exciting because it’s giving opportunities to girls who did not have it before,” Shields said.

The inaugural season included teams from Homewood, John Carroll, Vestavia Hills, Oak Mountain, Hoover and more, with multiple games played on Tuesday nights at different sites. The regular season concluded Oct. 19, with the postseason following.

Shields said the girls on her team have all been supportive of each other and were able to pick up lessons quickly. With four practices each week and two games each week, the girls received plenty of repetition to learn. Before their first match, Shields said the players were a combination of excited and nervous, and said she spent time talking with other coaches in the region to learn what to expect.

Practices started with basic skills: throwing, running, catching and more, Shields said. After learning basic skills, the girls moved on to learning different defensive schemes and route running and learned to work together as a team.

Unlike other sports, where members of the team have potentially been playing together for years, the members of the flag football team might be new to the sport and are playing together for the first time, Shields said.

“A lot of it is brand-new information,” she said.

Junior quarterback Chandler Binkley said playing a new sport can be different but has been rewarding so far.

“Playing a brand new high school sport can be weird at times because none of us have done anything like this before,” Binkley said. “Having succeeded just in making the team, receiving the positions and executing the plays is rewarding in and of itself.”

Despite the challenges, team members encouraged and supported each other, and practice was exciting, instead of the “dread” Shields said can often occupy practices in other sports.

Flag football continues to grow for boys and girls and one day will lead to scholarship opportunities and more opportunities for everyone, Shields said. The sport has been added to the list of events being held at next year’s World Games in Birmingham.

“It’s so exciting,” Shields said. “This is a whole new sport girls can grow in.”

Being one of the first-ever high school flag football teams in the state was not lost on the team, Shields said.

“They’re really excited,” she said. “I think the school in general is very excited.”

Making history is the most exciting part of the sport, Binkley said.

“I’m a part of the first girls flag football team, and that’s exciting to know as a high school junior,” Binkley said. “I hope that the team only grows in the future and that I’ll be able to look back and say that I was a part of it from the beginning.”

The girls are also well supported by their community, she said.

“Girls in athletics, Homewood has done a great job with providing them every opportunity they can have,” Shields said.

Playing flag football allows the girls to learn how to be part of a team and how to lead, which helps them as they continue, not just in sports, but in life as well, Shields said.

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Hoover’s Scarlett Daibes (6) intercepts a pass intended for Homewood’s Edison Williams (24).

John Carroll Catholic High School

The 37 members of the John Carroll Catholic High School girls flag football team could not be more excited for this opportunity, said coach Mary Claire Carruth.

“They’re so excited; they think it’s the greatest thing ever,” Carruth said. “It’s been good.”

Like Homewood’s team, early practices focused on the basics of the sport, with more being added as the season proceeded, Carruth said.

“I think it is absolutely wonderful,” Carruth said.

Junior Abi Schumann said she didn’t know what to expect coming into the season but has come to love the sport.

“As our season has progressed, it has already become a sport which I am very passionate and devoted to,” Schumann said.

The students at the school have also been very supportive, with a “huge” student population at the first game, Carruth said. As they do for regular football games, some of the guys painted their chest to support the Lady Cavaliers, Carruth said.

“I think a lot of people thought since we were girls, we wouldn’t really take it seriously, but everyone on the team is very competitive and is there to win,” junior Mia Mugavero said. “We take it very seriously, and I think we proved that to everyone in our first game. After people realized that we were taking this seriously, they really supported us in that and have cheered us on immensely.”

Mugavero said she loves trying new things and being part of the first flag football team at the school is exciting.

Building team chemistry has been a smoother process than Carruth thought it would be, she said. With so many other sports represented, Carruth said it helps build a “vibe” among players on the flag football team.

“Being on this team is very special. It has been a very different experience from every sport I have played,” Schumann said. “On our team, we have girls that range from freshmen to seniors. The special bond that has been developed between everyone on our team has made us one big family.”

Flag football represents a chance for younger girls who may not have found a sport that works for them to find one, and possibly even more down the road, Carruth said. “I think the potential is there for it to turn into something really serious.”

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