Flying the Flag for Girls Football in the River Towns 

First row left to right: Sofia Donikyan, Natalie Smith, Lucy Mager. Second row, left to right: Coach Craig Solomon, Kate Stratton, Hailey Pearson, Kayla Tresgallo, Kelly Sagastume, Kyanna Mirabal, Assistant Coach Dina Bertoline. Photo supplied

Receivers ran routes, caught passes and conducted footwork drills during football practice at the Anne M. Dormer Middle School gym in Ossining.  

The 13 young women attended the evening session to get a head start on the inaugural season of flag football as an official New York State high school championship sport on par with soccer, softball, basketball and volleyball. 

Athletes at Irvington, Lakeland, Peekskill, Walter Panas and Hendrick Hudson high schools are also ramping up for the season, which starts March 19. 

Girls flag football is on the cusp of a breakthrough. Participation is robust (30 players signed up for the Ossining team), the NFL is onboard (Jets and Giants players visit major local events) and the sport will join the Olympics in 2028. 

“Over the last two years, it has really taken off,” said Russell Rainey, coach of the Ossining girls and boys JV football teams. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a boys league started soon.” 

Awaiting their turn to catch passes at the practice, the girls laughed and danced to music played over the sound system but got frustrated after dropping some throws.  

Keyla Rea is a natural receiver who wore bright red gloves. “I’ve always been into football,” said Rea, a Jets fan. “I love helping the team on defense and getting that adrenaline rush. There’s no better feeling in the world than catching the ball and running for a touchdown.” 

Members of the Ossining flag football team with Coach Russell Rainey. Photo supplied

Players wear neon-bright Velcro flags on each hip and the action stops when a defender removes one of them. The goal is to avoid collisions: Tackling is forbidden, and the whistle blows if the ball is fumbled. Some contact is inevitable, however, and the only protective padding is a mouth guard. 

Passing drives most of the action, but running plays add variation. Despite rules against aggressive blocking, players may stand in the way to impede an opponent’s motion, “like setting a pick or a screen in basketball,” said Craig Solomon, coach of the Hen Hud team.  

Solomon, also an assistant coach on the boys varsity football team, found the crossover from 11 to seven players, along with many other differences, to be confusing at first. 

“All players can line up together and the center can go out for a pass,” he said. “As I was thinking up strategy, I realized, oh, that [boys] rule doesn’t apply, so I had to adjust. It’ll go great.” 

His equally confident quarterback, Lucy Mager, played flag football growing up and is a Carolina Panthers fan thanks to Cam Newton. 

Last year, when Hailey Pearson noticed on social media that the sport would become real, they recruited other student athletes and introduced an after-school club. 

“I never played, but found it interesting,” said Pearson, a basketball standout and target for Mager, who walked away from the softball team to play flag football. 

Diana De Paz, a cheerleader for the boys’ team in Ossining, always loved football and plans to play this year. Beyond enjoying the teamwork and adrenalin boost, she said, “we’re starting up history, basically.”

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