Sparkman Girls Are “Trailblazers” For Female Athletics- First Ever Flag Football Team
HARVEST- Scoring touchdowns is now part of girls athletics in high schools across Alabama. The Alabama High School Athletic Association sanctioned flag football for this school season and 22 student-athletes at Sparkman High are the trailblazers for the new sport.
Once the announcement of the new sport radiated throughout the hallways of the fourth largest high school in Alabama over 100 girls showed high interest in becoming involved, but only 40 actually signed up to play. The final cut came down to the current roster for the Lady Senators and this week the season kickoffs within a lot of excitement among the pioneers.
“I’m super excited to be among the first team and quarterback in this sport to make history and I feel super blessed,” said Jenna Kiger named starting signal caller by head coach James Arnette.
“Compared to the first day of practice I have seen a tremendous improvement in the girls, their knowledge of the game and willingness to do what will be necessary to succeed,” said Arnette. “For me, it’s a 100-percent thrill every day to see them experience something new and make history for the school, the state and female sports.”
Sparkman along with Huntsville High are the only schools in the immediate area to field teams for the inaugural season and the Senators have added other schools closer to Birmingham to formulate a 10-game season schedule.
Grace Anne Ingram was a longtime cheerleader and was approached by two friends about joining the flag football team in a way to play a sport together for the first time. She grew up in a family that had major interest in football. “My dad made sure I knew how to throw a football when I was a young girl,” said Ingram, who will be a quarterback and center on the squad. “I have practiced with my dad at home especially snapping the football as I’ve never had that experience, but I’ve surprised myself as I’ve done so well as a snapper.”
The format will be 7-on-7 with no physical blocking, only screen blocking allowed. All players are eligible to catch a pass on the 80 by 40-yard field dimensions. Arnette added, “Flag is close to backyard football in the fact there is no physical blocking and tackling.”
Pulling flags to end plays may be one of the most difficult facets of the sport. Kiger, one of seven seniors on the squad, said pulling flags on a runner is much more difficult than she imagined. The team has gone through numerous drills to learn how to stop a runner by pulling the flags wrapped around their waist. “I’ve been impressed with their efforts as for some of the girls it seems pulling the flag is a second nature to them,” added Arnette.
A competitive dancer for 10 years and a former travel softball player, Kiger has always loved watching football and now is experiencing the sport from a different perspective. She said, “There is more running and we rely on each other on every play. Those are the biggest differences in the game than what I thought. For the physical portion of the game, I’m ready.”
Arnette has tried to simplify the playbook using route numbers for each play. He has taught each player on the roster football terminology and tried quickly to acclimating the girls to their new sport. He knows much of his coaching will be to help the players understand and feel comfortable with their newfound passion. Fathers of the girls and some players from the boys football team have assisted Arnette and his assistant coach Monica Davis.
“The school administration has been very supportive of our efforts as they asked for volunteers to coach and I responded as I played intermural flag football in college,” said Arnette.
Ingram is set to graduate in December and with a 4.3 grade point average will advance to college with assistance through her academics, but she wanted one last chance to try something new before she exited the school on her way to becoming an adult and chose the start-up sport after dropping cheer from her repertoire after her junior year.
“In competition cheerleading you have one chance and you’re done, but with football you have many chances to succeed,” said the 5-foot-8 senior Ingram. “I’m not scared, but nervous. This is going to be a fun way to end high school for me.”
“Each of these girls has worked hard on learning the sport and they are truly making history and will pave the way for the future of female sports,” said Arnette.