Southwestern sees ‘immense interest’ in flag football team
Southwestern Central School is taking steps to field a girls flag football team this spring. The district is among a handful locally to promote what is becoming an increasingly popular sport in high schools.
School board members at Southwestern are expected to approve the appointments of coaches for a newly formed girls flag football team at their next meeting.
Maureen Donahue, district superintendent and Section VI president, said there’s been “immense interest” from female atheletes toward the establishment of a girls flag football team. With coaches to be appointed soon, she said equipment — including the flags and jerseys — is being ordered and expects a team to be ready to play this spring.
“I think it’s an incredible opportunity for our female athletes,” Donahue said.
Southwestern may soon be joined by other local school districts that have either approved flag football programs or are exploring the option. A girls team was approved by the Jamestown Public Schools Board during a meeting in late January
“It’s a very popular sport that’s growing in popularity,” Dr. Kevin Whitaker, Jamestown superintendent, said at the meeting. “And I know I’ve spoken to a number of local superintendents who are interested in starting teams, and so I would anticipate we will have both local and sectional competition.”
Meanwhile, Fredonia’s athletic director, Greg Lauer, recently presented a plan for the creation of a girls flag football program.
“This is a great opportunity to get our students involved in the game of football in a safe and fun environment. It also gets some of our students participating in a sport that they may not have done before in the spring season,” Lauer told members of the Fredonia Central School Board last month.
The inaugural girls flag football season in Section VI of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association kicked off last April with 12 teams, though none from Chautauqua or Cattaraugus counties. Teams included Niagara Falls, West Seneca, Orchard Park, Frontier, Hamburg and North Tonawanda in Division 1 and Sweet Home, Amherst, Iroquois, Depew, Lackawanna and Buffalo Academy of Science in Division 2.
NYSPHSAA partnered with the Buffalo Bills, New York Giants and New York Jets to create a pilot program that led to last spring’s inaugural season. In a news release from February 2022, NYSPHSAA said 48 member schools across six sections of New York state were provided funds by the three NFL teams to support schools.
“We are grateful and excited to partner with the Bills, Giants and Jets to provide beneficial participation opportunities for female high school student-athletes in our state,” Robert Zayas, NYSPHSAA executive director, said at the time. “The NFL’s commitment to promoting flag football is truly appreciated and will be critical to the success of future programs.”
Further adding excitement to the expansion of teams moving forward, Donahue said there will be a New York state championship in 2024.
Southwestern also has expanded its unified sports programs. On Jan. 31, the first unified bowling meet was held. The program complements the district’s basketball team that began playing last year.
“I hope every school considers it,” Donahue said of unified sports teams. “I think it’s incredible to have kids take part in unified sports who otherwise wouldn’t have an opportunity.”
Donahue and Kevin Salisbury, Southwestern’s athletic director, previously attended meetings to learn more about unified sports. While not a new concept, she said programs have become more popular as an options for some students and districts coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Jamestown, school board members approved the creation of a unified basketball team to begin competing this spring. “I think this is great and I’m glad to see that we’re doing it,” said Paul Abbott, school board president.