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FLAG FOOTBALL: HORSEHEADS GIRLS READY FOR LAUNCH OF FLAG FOOTBALL TEAM (24 PHOTOS) (2022-04-21)

By Brian Fees
Southern Tier Sports Report
HORSEHEADS — All of her life Alicia Williams watched football with her family, she just never imagined that one day she’d get a chance to play the sport for her school.

Now, Williams gets the chance to play the sport she loves as she’ll be part of the first ever flag football team for the Horseheads Blue Raiders, a sport that is just launching this spring.

“I have watched football with my family growing up and I thought, well girls can’t really play football, because it’s a boys’ sport,” Williams said. “But, this is a cool opportunity for us to be able to play to.”

For the Horseheads players this opportunity should be a special one.

“We are very excited, I think this is definitely a great opportunity for girls, something we haven’t had an opportunity to do yet,” Williams said.

“I think it’s going to be fun and it’s going to be really eye opening,” Caitlyn Slavin said.

In the fall Kevin Hillman is the head football coach for the boys and John Malnoske is one of the assistant coaches. Now the two are working with the girls in the Spring as well.

“I think it’s awesome,” Hillman said. “Like I told them at the beginning, you are making history right off the bat, no matter what happens, just stepping on the field and being the first team out there, you are making history for the school, for the section, for the state being the first girls flag football team, so that’s excited.

“I am excited for them, and I’m excited for the girls in the future.”

Just as Williams grew up watching the sport, Hillman knows a lot of girls grow up watching football and this is special to give them a chance to play the game they love.

“On TV you have women as officials, women broadcasting games, there are lot of girls and women that really enjoy the game and now there is an opportunity for them to play the game.

“It’s pretty exciting. I’m excited for them. Even as a father of two young girls, who knows if they’ll play or not, but there is an opportunity and that’s all you can ask for.”

In the fall the Blue Raiders had a powder puff game and Hillman and Malnoske coached the game and thought how special it would be to have the sport for women.

“It’s football, so I get to do something in the spring, it’s exciting,” Hillman said. “Actually we did a powder puff game here, the juniors and seniors did as a fundraiser in the fall and coach Malnoske and myself coached that and it was a fun thing at the end of the year.

“We said, man, I wish they would do something like this, it would be great. It’s funny, right around that time we were talking about how Florida actually has a flag football high school league and it’s been pretty successful, with a state championship and all that. I said, man, it would be pretty awesome and all of a sudden we heard this was going on and our school, thankfully, hopped on board and gave the girls an opportunity so it’s exciting.”

For the girls it’s special to have coaches like Hillman and Malnoske coaching them.

“They definitely know what they re doing and they know what they are talking about and they give us great help,” Williams said. “They are very encouraging people and great to work with.”

“They are good people to be around,” Slavin said. “They will definitely push us to be our best.”

Hillman feels like the girls appreciate the experience in the sport that he and Malnoske bring, but he also knows there are adjustments to make when it comes to flag football rules.

“I think it helps for them, they know hopefully that there are guys out here who know what they are doing,” Hillman said. “But, even that being said these rules are a lot different than our game. I’m still learning as I go, so we have a scrimmage this weekend and all the teams are there, I think after that I’ll have a better grasp on it.

“I told the girls it might be ugly this weekend, but after that we’ll go back, we’ll look at it, we’ll be all right. Our goal is by the end of the year to be the best we can be and hopefully be competing with those other teams. There’s a little tournament at the end of the year and you never know, maybe we can win this thing.”

The Blue Raiders field a roster of 20 athletes in this first season.

“I am definitely glad a bunch of girls decided to come out, it makes it really fun,” Williams said. “It’s definitely a wide variety of athletes so we can all combine our skills and hopefully be pretty good.”

Both Williams and Slavin are soccer players and they love the atmosphere of a game on the turf in front of stands full of fans and they are excited to have the same thing this spring.

“We both play soccer, so we really like that atmosphere with people in the stands and being competitive,” Williams said. “My soccer team is definitely very competitive so I’m looking forward to using that in football.”

“It’s really cool to have people cheer for you,” Slavin said.

For all the girls this sport is a chance to be a part of another team and get to know some other kids.

“I am not on a name basis with a lot of these girls, so it will be good to get to know them and spread from outside my team I play soccer with,” Williams aid.

“I think we are going to get along really well,” Slavin said.

Teams only had a short time to find players for the first year of this sport as the news of a flag football league came out at the end of the fall. Hillman is impressed with this year’s numbers and even more excited to see what the future holds.

“I think we were a little worried going in if we’d have enough girls or not,” Hillman said. “We had 20 something girls that signed up, I think we have 20 right now. It’s nice because you have those other spring sports going on so you worried if we’d have enough, and we did. It’s great excitement. These girls worked their tails off, it’s a great thing.

“Really they had a month, they found out about it, there was a month, we threw it out there hoping to see if it would take off and it did. I really think next year you will see a bunch more schools do it. I really think this is going to grow. Hopefully this can lead to other opportunities, even college opportunities. Colleges may start offering it, I think there are a couple that do. I don’t know if it’s a club team, or what, but maybe there will be opportunities at the next level for them to move on to. I’m just excited to be a part of this.”

The girls are all excited to see how far this sport goes in the future.

“I think it can really grow into something big,” Slavin said.

“I am excited to see how much this can grow over the next couple of years, and I’m excited to be a part of the first team,” Williams said.

Being a part of history is special. Being a part of the very first team to play the sport is cool, but for Williams it’s more than that, it’s just about playing a sport she loves.

“That’s definitely very cool (being a part of the first team),” Williams said. “I’m also just excited to participate in it.”

Along with Horseheads the other teams taking part are Ithaca, Binghamton, Norwich, Owego, Chenango Valley and two Union-Endicott teams.

After a scrimmage this weekend with all the teams the season begins. Horseheads first home game is April 30 against Owego.
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PHOTOS BY BRIAN FEES


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