Herricks, Port Washington join the girls flag football craze on Long Island

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Herricks, Port Washington join the girls flag football craze on Long Island
Herricks football player Ella Ledwith (4) runs with the ball during a recent game. Herricks and Port Washington have both added girls flag football as a varsity sport this spring. Photo credit: Jim Petricca

If you've never in your life heard someone smile while blood gushes from a wound in their leg, well, let me introduce you to Emely Medina.

The Herricks High School senior was happily recounting life as a new flag football player, and some of the bumps and bruises she's gotten so far.

As she excitedly spoke, her enthusiasm oozing through the phone, she casually mentioned she was currently applying pressure to a nasty scrape on her leg, acquired from practice a few hours earlier.

“It's just a little inconvenience, and it's actually really awesome,” Medina cheerfully shared. “I mean, yeah, it hurts a little bit but it's so amazing. I will never, ever regret picking up a football, even if I get injured a little.”

Medina is just one of hundreds of girls now playing flag football in Nassau County.

This spring Herricks and Port Washington's Schreiber High School are the latest to add the ever-growing sport, bringing the total high school teams in the county to 21 (Roslyn added flag last year).

And judging by the comments from Medina's teammates, and those on the new Port Washington team, flag football has been the greatest thing since Taylor Swift started making music.

“I played field hockey, lacrosse and gymnastics, but this is a whole different thing, and so much fun,” said Port Washington senior Ashley Yee, a wide receiver and quarterback. “To be a part of history, and know we're the first girls in the school to ever get to do this, is incredibly exciting.”

Both Port Washington coach Ryan Proper and Herricks coach Ken Davis said they were surprised at the huge enthusiasm for flag among the school; Port Washington had 45 girls sign up and 30 stick around to play, while Herricks has a healthy 28 players, more than enough to field seven-person offense and defensive squads.

While very few of the players had ever played football, grasping the fundamentals has been pretty smooth.

“Football is harder than it looks, but I think we've mostly picked it up pretty quickly,” said Port Washington freshman Nillie Taniak. “The environment, being out here and all of us starting from the same point (in learning), has been super helpful.”

The physical contact of flag has definitely been eye-opening; the Vikings players said they were “shocked” at how much hard-hitting there was in their opener, in a sport where tackling isn't allowed.

“Yeah, the Plainedge game, that was way more physical than we expected,” said junior Alexa Benun. ” But we got used to it and will be much more ready next time.”

One player who has had zero issues with the physicality is Herricks senior linebacker Drishti Patel. That's because for four years she's been a member of the Highlanders varsity boys football team, as a linebacker and safety.

For Patel, the intensity and speed of her football training meant an awkward transition at first.

“Yeah on one of the first plays she ran up and tackled me really hard,” said Herricks quarterback Ava Lorenzana, laughing. “Coach had to remind her that she's not allowed to do that here.”

“Yeah, that was my fault,” Patel said. “I honestly was pretty hesitant about playing flag, because I'm so used to tackle football. But I was so wrong because the girls are so much more fun to play with.”

Davis, the Herricks coach, said he's been very impressed with how quickly his team has picked up football terminology, though he admitted it's been a big adjustment for him as a coach.

“It's an adventure for me as well, having only coached boys in tackle before,” He said. “You draw up a play and say ‘this should work,' and then it doesn't because the rules of this sport and the people you're coaching are different. But so many of these kids have picked up the rules so well that they're really instructing me at times, on what we can and can't do.”

Neither team has picked up a victory yet as of March 30, but there's still time. Port Washington's next home game is Saturday, April 6 at noon against Bellmore, while Herricks is next home on Monday, April 8 at 5 p.m. against Syosset.

The enthusiasm the players have felt from the school communities has been overwhelming, players at both schools said.

“People in school, kids I don't know, random teachers I've never had are coming to the games and telling me in school how excited they are about the team,” Herricks' Lorenzana said. “It's been wonderful to get so much support for something that's never been at the school before. We love being a part of this history.”

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