While transitioning to high school coverage in Florida, I immediately discovered many differences between the prep sports scene in Georgia and that of the Sunshine State.
Fall sports I was used to (softball) are now played in the spring. Spring sports, such as golf, are played in the fall; and soccer, a spring sport in Georgia, is played during the mild winter months here.
In addition to that was an unfamiliar sport — girls’ flag football. My only experience with flag football came in college, where I played on a few men’s and co-ed intramural teams.
In high school, the closest thing to flag football was the annual “powderpuff game,” played during Homecoming week.
The football and basketball cheerleaders were split up between underclassmen and upperclassmen to form two teams.
Their uniforms were bedazzled T-shirts, decorated with hot pink and lime green markers and craft glue. Their hair sported bows, ribbons and pigtails.
Perhaps most entertaining of all, the coaches and “cheerleaders” for the game were the senior football players and some other male athletes. Regretfully, I admit I was one of them my senior year, cheerleading skirt, pompons and all.
It was a popular event at my high school and brought in larger crowds than our below-average football team.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the words “flag football” brought memories of a nonchalant exhibition game full of players that were more concerned with not breaking a nail than scoring a touchdown.
While attending a flag football tournament at Otis M. Andrews Park last summer, my perception of the sport changed completely. Watching the Plant City High girls take on a defending state champion, I witnessed great catches, diving tackles and terrific effort displayed by both teams. When the Lady Raiders found themselves down at the half, I saw a lot of emotion under a sideline tent. They didn’t care that they were sweaty, or that their makeup was smeared. They didn’t care if a fingernail had been chipped or broken.
All they cared about was motivating themselves and their teammates — convincing them they had what it took to come back in the second half. They were focused on winning, and they were ready and willing to put their bodies on the line to do so.
I saw that same drive and passion a few weeks ago, when I made my rounds to local teams’ flag football practices. I saw athletes clinging to every piece of advice from their coaches.
Yes, flag football isn’t as dangerous as the male-dominated counterpart, but it wouldn’t be fair to say it is a non-contact sport, because there is plenty of bumping and pushing that goes on during a game.
When it comes to plays, while there are large differences between tackle and flag, the playbook for flag is equally intricate and complicated. There may not be as many blocking formations, but there are plenty of passing routes, misdirection and defensive coverages to remember. The coaches take the sport seriously and expect the athletes to do the same.
The 2013 season currently is in full swing. If you haven’t ever taken in a flag football game, I urge you to do so.
You’ll see what I mean when I say the play is anything but “powderpuff.”