Undefeated: Smithfield girls flag football sees standout first season

Published 5:49 pm Wednesday, June 5, 2024

An all-female flag football team from Smithfield is headed to the season championship undefeated after a standout inaugural season.

Smithfield Packers Youth Sports, the nonprofit organization that oversees the tackle football program at the town’s Luter sports complex, started the flag football program earlier this year, citing the growing presence of the sport at the high school and college level.

“With girls flag football making its way into colleges this is just another way SPYS can help the kids on our community further themselves and have the opportunity to earn scholarships,” said Head Coach Becky Bridges of the age 12-and-under (12U) team.

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The game is played very much the same as tackle football. The main difference is physical contact between players isn’t intended. Instead, the girls grab hold of one or both of an opposing player’s flags, which are attached to a belt. 

Despite this, games can still get rough at times.

“I had two girls go down back to back at this past Saturday’s game, but they should not have,” Bridges said. “Just because it’s flag football doesn’t make it any less intense, as there will be collisions, trips, falls … but the sportsmanship and athleticism we try to instill in our players is a constant throughout the program. Instead of focusing on how to hit and get hit, we focus on how to pull flags and how to maneuver while running the ball so we don’t get our flags pulled.”

Flag football is a five-on-five game, though the Youth Packers have six girls, all ages 12 and under, on the 12U team.

“All of my girls are standout players, but I do have an all-star defensive captain, Liliana Bozora, No. 12, and my main quarterback and offensive captain Kylie Reynolds, No. 00, run the field during games,” Bridges said. “I hardly have to give direction and the girls call their own plays and adjust as necessary on the field with minimal direction.”

The Packers defeated the Princess Warriors 18-0 in a May 25 game played at C. Alton Lindsay Middle School in Hampton as a member of the I-64 Sports All Girl Flag Football Circuit, which includes six teams spanning Hampton Roads: PD Powerhouse, HR Princess Warriors, Team Pressure, Backend Girls, Lindsey and the Packers.

“We preach good sportsmanship and fairness throughout the program whether it’s flag or tackle, and my girls will tell you that I do not stand for ugliness on the field,” Bridges said. “We play clean, we play fair, and we play hard. Teamwork is the biggest part of football when I’m coaching. The girls all help each other out, we practice as a team, we break as a team, we win as a team, not one single player can play a game by themselves, so we need each and every one of our teammates. This is the overall theme of football whether it’s tackle or flag.”

Bridges attributes the team’s success to “dedication and passion.”

“These girls came out to the very first practice extremely receptive and ready to learn the game,” Bridges said. “They were pumped, they listen, they take direction, and they learn the new plays within minutes. They stay focused, but I will definitely say that they are preteen girls! There is a lot of laughing, giggling, dancing, singing, and cartwheels during practices.

“They will go from belting out a Katy Perry song right into a play so naturally like they’re taking a breath. They have such a passion and such dedication that when given the opportunity to take a day of practice off, they all vote to practice instead. The other day when it started raining at practice, I asked if they were OK to keep going. The overall response was ‘it’s fine, let’s keep going’ and before I could say anything they were lined up ready to run a play.”

Bridges said her experience as a team mom for the ages 6-and-under boys flag team for the past two seasons “did nothing to prepare me for coaching girls 8-12.”
“They are a different breed entirely, and I could not be more proud to call them my girls,” Bridges said. “We have definitely become a family this season and seeing these girls grow and being able to witness the hard-earned victories is truly indescribable. I hope the girls flag football program continues to grow int he seasons to come.”