Making History: Section VII Holds Inaugural Flag Football Season
Section VII’s inaugural girls flag football season was a tremendous success.
Eleven teams participated in the historic season that offered girls the opportunity to play an interscholastic sport that barely was a thought before quickly becoming a reality.
Section VII Executive Director Matt Walentuk was busy in the months of January and February once it was clear there was enough interest among local schools to create a schedule of games for the 2023 spring season. The catalyst for the first season stemmed from the New York Giants donating $30,000 to Section VII to be used to jumpstart participating schools’ flag football programs.
“This season was one of those things where the stars aligned,” Walentuk said. “The Giants with their money was the fuel that set the rocket off. Last year, this was not on anyone’s minds.”
While attending an Executive Director meeting for the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) in January, Walentuk learned about the Giants’ potential donation. He went ahead and asked two other Executive Directors of other Sections in the state who had already organized flag football seasons how their inaugural years went.
The answers that came from these questions were all positive, so the next steps included bringing the idea back to local athletic coordinators and superintendents and seeing what schools wanted to participate.
“None of our schools had any money budgeted for the sport,” Walentuk said. “After
meeting virtually with some community relations representatives from the Giants, we came up with a plan to disseminate $2,700 apiece to each school.”
Once the finances were accounted for, the true pla
nning began after it was clear student-athletes were very interested in the sport. Section VII successfully developed a schedule that did not interfere with other sports, which allowed girls to play multiple
sports within the same season to let flag football grow without hurting numbers of other programs.
READY TO PLAY
On April 20, 2023, Schroon Lake traveled to Keene on a beautiful, sun-filled afternoon for Section VII’s first official flag football game.
This kicked off what turned out to be an 8-week season that saw all teams grow and improve while paving a pathway for student-athletes in the future to play.
“The growth of the product we saw was the most amazing thing,” Walentuk said. “The coaches, officials and players were all trying to figure things out in the first week. They knew the game, but you had to see what would work and what would
not within the rules. By the end of the season and seeing the trick plays, the strategy, the skill, we will never see that type of exponential growth within the course of a season again.”
With all the success the first season brought, an exciting future awaits for flag football in Section VII. Next year, it will become a sectional sport — meaning sectional champions will be crowned and advance to state play.
“My prediction is flag football will be the fastest growing sport in the country alongside girls wrestling,” Walentuk said. “There will be some growing pains, but it’s part of the process. We are excited to see how this evolves at schools.”
If the positivity surrounding the sport is any indication, flag football is here to stay with plenty of support from local school communities.
“I don’t think there is another sport across the country that brings people to the stands and the games like football,” Walentuk said. “We saw it this spring. We were getting big crowds at games filling the bleachers or standing along the fence three rows deep. It created a buzz. It’s being talked about. That’s the beauty of high school sports, and flag football brought our communities together.”
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