Section 1 to launch girls flag football pilot program this spring with 8 teams

Nancy Haggerty
Rockland/Westchester Journal News

It's a sport played extensively by both sexes on college campuses. 

Now it will be played by girls at area high schools.

Section 1 has announced it's launching a girls flag football program this spring that will be part of an overall state-wide pilot program initiated by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association.

Youngsters play flag football in November 2014 at Iona Prep as part of the Mamaroneck Youth Football League. Now the game will be played on a high school level in six sections of New York by high school girls as part of a NYSPHSAA pilot program. Eight teams from Section 1 will participate this spring.

According to the NYSPHSAA, with the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and New York Giants providing seed money, 48 schools from six sections across New York will play this spring. 

Section 1 will receive money from the Giants. 

Nike has also donated $100,000 to be divided statewide to pay for equipment and uniforms. 

From the local area, Somers, Scarsdale, Peekskill, Brewster, Lakeland, Panas, Hastings and a combined Greenburgh-North Castle squad have committed to playing this spring. 

Each team will play six to eight, 7-on-7 games on regulation football fields, according to the NYSPHSAA. 

"This is an historic day," NYSPHSAA Executive Director Robert Zayas said in a press release Tuesday that announced the launch. 

Zayas indicated NFL support will extend beyond this spring, characterizing the league's commitment to promoting flag football as "critical to the success of future programs."

Section 1 only need look a little south to judge the game's potential popularity. 

New Jersey started a girls pilot flag program in 2020 with eight teams and, in a year, girls flag football ballooned to include 26 schools.

Flag football is still not an official varsity sport in that state but supporters are hopeful it will receive that designation in 2024. 

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That might also occur in New York.

"I think it might very well statewide," Somers athletic director Roman Catalino said. "If it goes well this year, I think we'll double our numbers next year."

He said he'd expected 20-plus kids to sign up from his high school and the number is closer to 30 with more probably interested but waiting to see how things go this spring before committing. 

The game won't be new for at least some girls.

Catalino noted the Town of Somers has run a flag program for grades three through eight the last couple of years.

Somers intends to treat the pilot team as a varsity sport, meaning players will not be allowed to participate in the other varsity sports offered in the spring if they play football. 

But Catalino doesn't think that will squelch enthusiasm.

"I think it's something our girls will take to," Catalino said. 

Peekskill athletic director Austin Goldberg is also optimistic. 

"The response has been super positive," he said, explaining that 25 Peekskill girls have expressed interest when responding to a questionnaire. 

"Right away, we knew it would be successful," said Goldberg, whose school, unlike Somers, doesn't offer girls lacrosse in the spring, so has had only track and field and softball as designated spring girls sports. 

Football is seen as filling a void, providing a third girls spring sports option that many other districts already have.

And the learning curve should be short in Peekskill, if there even is one. Goldberg noted flag football, played mostly as a co-ed sport, is part of Peekskill's physical education curriculum from grade school through high school.

"We anticipate being very competitive," he said, noting familiarity with the game and the prospect of playing on Peekskill's recently renovated Torpy Field, which received new artificial turf and new lights last year, has combined to fuel interest.

He thinks games will begin some time in mid-to-late April. 

"It's going to be amazing — Friday Night Lights for our female athletes. It's going to be so exciting," Goldberg predicted. 

Nancy Haggerty covers cross-country, track & field, field hockey, skiing, ice hockey, girls lacrosse and other sporting events for The Journal News/lohud. Follow her on Twitter at both @HaggertyNancy and at @LoHudHockey.