Florida was the first state to sanction flag football, and Palm Beach County led (and leads) the way
Thursday, April 26, 2012
by Matt Porter
Back in 1998, when Bill Massey led a group of high school administrators trying to make flag football a sport in Palm Beach County schools, some teachers and students didn't quite get the idea.
"They thought it was powderpuff," Massey recalled.
Powderpuff games are a casual homecoming tradition. Flag football in the county has become something much more serious.
Since 2002, when Florida became the first state to sanction the sport, three of the nine state champions have come from Palm Beach County. Twenty-four of Palm Beach County's 25 public high schools field a team, with all but three offering varsity and JV teams. Nearly every state final has been hosted here.
This year, Seminole Ridge (No. 2), Boynton Beach (6) and Palm Beach Gardens (7) are among the state's top-ranked teams.
"The first few years, the skill level wasn't really that good," said Massey, the recently retired athletic director at Boca Raton and Spanish River. "Now it's really sophisticated. Some of the things teams do at the state level are pretty fun to watch."
Like the "The Terminator," one of the 42 offensive plays Seminole Ridge uses. Sophomore quarterback Morgan Lauer won't reveal what they look like, but she and her teammates spent two hours every day perfecting them.
"We critique them to the last bit. We want to make them perfect," said Lauer, who followed older sisters Karlee and Brianna in playing flag football at Seminole Ridge.
Looking to satisfy gender equity, Palm Beach County began a 12-school flag football league in 1999, around the same time Pinellas and Marion Counties started theirs. Since 2002, Florida has grown from 80 participating schools to 192, with nearly 5,000 players. Alaska, the other state to sanction the sport, has about 400 girls.
Over the past 10 years, the strongest youth leagues developed in The Acreage, Royal Palm Beach and Palm Beach Gardens, Massey said.
Seminole Ridge coach Austin Bowe gets his players mainly from The Acreage, where some, like Morgan Lauer, began playing at age 6. "It makes it a lot easier as a coach," said Bowe, who coached Team USA's women team from 2003-05 and won the World Cup of Flag Football in 2004. "You don't have to teach them where the line of scrimmage is, or what a snap count is."
According to the National Federation of High Schools, about 3.1 million girls participated in high school sports last school year, mostly in track and field, volleyball, softball and soccer. Flag football was the 24th-most popular sport.
In Palm Beach County, it's just as popular as any other spring sport.
"The only negative thing is that there isn't a school scholarship waiting at the end of the rainbow," Massey said. "Girls just have to play for the fun of the game and to enjoy the high school sports experience."
Lauer is doing that now, but would jump at the chance to play in college.
"Oh, definitely," she said. "I enjoy it a lot. I don't know what I'd do without it."
The last team standing from the area in the FHSAA flag football state finals, by year:
2011 Palm Beach Gardens (state semifinals, OT)
2010 Seminole Ridge (state champion)
2009 Jupiter (state champion)
2008 Jupiter (state semifinals)
2007 Palm Beach Gardens (state semifinals)
2006 Seminole Ridge, Spanish River (state quarterfinals)
2005 Dwyer (state champion)
2004 Dwyer, Lake Worth (state semifinals)
2003 Lake Worth (state finals)
FLAG FOOTBALL STATE PLAYOFFS
First-round play-in games: 4 p.m. Saturday
Second-round play-in games: 7 p.m. Tuesday
State finals: May 4-5, Gene Cox Stadium, Tallahassee