Flag football has been growing in popularity across the world in recent years, and has carved itself a particular zone of heightened competition in the northeast.
With teams and leagues springing up in New Jersey and elsewhere, a group of Brick Township girls in middle school are hoping to form a team that would represent their town by the time they reach high school – and it looks like they may be successful.
Ella Terry, an eighth grader, addressed the township’s Board of Education at its meeting last week to pitch an idea for a combined team at Brick’s two high schools that would create a formidable lineup. She currently plays on both all-girls and co-ed travel teams and club teams, and has won awards for her performance, including becoming the first female athlete in her league to win Defensive Player of the Year. In flag football, downs are made by grabbing a flag attached to the uniform of an opposing player rather than tackling the opponent.
“I started playing flag football when I was seven years old,” said Terry. “I have always enjoyed it more than any other sport I played. It is not the hardest sport physically, but I will admit you have to be mentally tough, especially as a female, to play a sport like this.”
Ella said she was faced doubts from some, and was made fun of by others for wanting to play football as a young woman.
“Let’s just say I proved them wrong by showing them what I can do,” she said. “Fast forward a few years later, and I’m a member of an all-girls travel football team because of a coach who changed my perspective on playing this sport.”
Natalie Iosi, who is currently eight-years-old, said she wants to follow in the footsteps of fellow Brick native KyLee Caetano, one of her volunteer coaches who became a two-time national flag football champion who was the first female to receive a college scholarship for football in New Jersey.
“One of my coaches, KyLee, who went to Brick Memorial even plays in college now,” she said. “There are so many girls who play Flag, and it has helped me to be strong and confident.”
Janet Terry, Ella’s mother, said her daughter’s quest to add flag football to Brick’s official team sports lineup has transformed her once-introverted student-athlete to become an advocate for her sport, meeting with school officials and putting together a petition and making her pitch to students and administrators alike.
“This is an important time for the sport, and we’d love the opportunity for our students to earn scholarship money,” said Terry. “We travel to New York, Pennsylvania, and as far as Florida and Las Vegas. It’s a big expense, and we think the students should have the opportunity to play in their own backyard.”
A 12-and-under flag football team consisting mostly of Brick residents won a divisional title last year, literally competing with teams from around the world in a tournament.
“There are 14 towns in the Shore Conference that have added flag football to their schools, and we know we can compete with them,” Terry said.
Superintendent Thomas Farrell said is 100 percent behind the efforts to bring flag football to Brick – and to have it recognized as a sport equal to traditional football instead of a club sport. The calls to add flag football to the official sports offerings regulated by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association comes as some collegiate conferences, including the NEC (Northeast Conference), have begun adding flag football teams as a Division III sport under their banner.
While the focus in flag football is often on female athletes being given a chance to compete on the field, co-ed teams also allow male students a chance to play a non-tackle variant of the sport.
“My brother’s teammate and friend has a condition that makes him unable to play tackle football,” said Ella Terry. “Playing football in high school, even if it’s not tackle, would brighten up his last few years in high school.”
“The word is that it’s going to become a sanctioned sport over the next few years rather than a club,” said Farrell, who said he helped bring flag football to his previous school district in Monmouth County. ” It is our plan to bring it here, it just didn’t fit into this year’s budget because of budget cuts.”
Brick schools faced massive state funding cuts for the 2023-24 school year which could have led to a major budget crisis which was poised to lead to teacher layoffs and cuts to extracurricular activities. A portion of the funding was restored at the last minute, but not in time for new programs to be organized and added. But its addition is squarely on the radar of school officials, who expect to start a team next year.
“The plan is for the 2024-25 school year to initiate it, probably with volunteer coaches and a combined Brick Township-Brick Memorial team,” said Farrell.
Farrell said the NFL provides grants to school districts for flag football teams. Ocean County schools have been eligible for funds from the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, each of which donates about $3,000 to cover the cost of coaching and ancillary expenses. It is likely a combination of fundraising and budget inclusion would be needed to cover the cost of equipment and transportation, however parents at the meeting said they would be more than happy to fund-raise.
“I am 100 percent for it, and my gut feeling is that we’re going to get this going soon,” Farrell said.