BUFFALO, N.Y. — Back in the February, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, or NYSPHSAA, approved a pilot program for girls flag football.
It includes 48 teams throughout the state with 12 here in Western New York and eight in Rochester.
Marissa Dauria, the NYSPHSAA Section VI chairperson and Sweet Home High School's athletic director, says it's a move by the state and NFL to get more girls into flag football.
Teams in Buffalo and Rochester are being funded by the Buffalo Bills. The other teams across the state are being funded by the New York Jets and New York Giants.
Nike has also donated $100,000 to the state's new program in order to pay for uniforms and equipment.
Sweet Home High School is one of the 12 Western New York schools participating in the inaugural season, which will go through the end of May. Its head coach is Chris Monaco.
"I'm all for giving the girls every opportunity we can. As somebody who has got sisters and has fallen into some opportunities coaching girls, they work just as hard as the guys," Monaco said.
He says they only have a varsity team because this is the first year, but there was instantly a lot of interest.
More than 30 girls tried out for the Sweet Home team, but only 20 made the cut, including one freshman.
Monaco says introducing girls to flag football has been a push across the states in cities with NFL teams.
In fact, Dauria says in 2020, the Bills were planning to introduce girls flag football to middle schools in Western New York.
"Due to COVID, it was canceled in 2020, but it did run last year. It was super popular, it started to gain momentum. Through conversations with (the Bills), they did share that they did hope to make it a high school sport for girls eventually, and then it kind of escalated quicker than people thought. Then in the fall of 2021, NYSPHSAA reached out to us, saying they were going to be offering it," Dauria said.
Sweet Home's Megan Gerber will be the first quarterback for their inaugural season.
"Just being the first pioneers is pretty cool," Gerber said.
"Women just want to be a part of more sports that boys are involved in," said Emma Trznadel, wide receiver and linebacker for Sweet Home. "A lot of girls wish that it was tackle but right now, we're just starting out so soon, it should move forward and get into tackle."
Dauria says she's not sure if that will ever happen citing how participation numbers in tackle football have fallen recently, among other reasons.
"I don't know if you'd get as many females interested in playing tackle football. I know there are some tackle football leagues but just in the interest and safety as well as in getting more people interested quickly, I think that flag football is probably the best bet," Dauria said.
All the Buffalo and Rochester teams had their first drills and scrimmage over at the Bills' training facility in Orchard Park on Saturday.
WESTERN NEW YORK TEAMS:
- Buffalo Academy of Science
- Niagara Falls High School
- Depew High School
- Lackawanna High School
- North Tonawanda High School
- West Seneca West/East High Schools have a combined team
- Frontier High School
- Hamburg High School
- Amherst High School
- Iroquois High School
- Orchard Park High School
- Sweet Home High School
- Destiny Christian School
- Rochester Academy Charter School
- James Monroe Upper School
- Edison Tech
- Eastridge High School
- Irondequoit High School
- Spencerport High School