SK girls flag football wins 2 in inaugural home debut

Coach says they are pioneers in the Wild West with everybody learning the game

The first winter flag football season at South Kitsap High School is underway, and the girls are out to prove they have what it takes to carry the pigskin.

They made the most of their chance to give a first impression to their home fans at Kitsap Bank Stadium Dec. 12, and while there is still much left to understand about the new sport, juniors Alba Luque, Gwyn Bridges and Reagan Dale helped make school history in leading the Wolves to back-to-back wins of 25-6 vs. Bethel and 32-12 against Graham-Kapowsin.

The Wolves came into the doubleheader looking to break into the win column after dropping a pair of season-opening games to Puyallup and Rogers. The girls also competed against South Puget Sound League foes in a jamboree/combine a week prior.

“We just got it going,” coach Cody McCulley said. “We have really good running backs. It’s Luque, our exchange student from Spain, and Gwyn Bridges, who was one of our football statisticians. Gwyn had some real hip shifts going on, and Alba really has good starts and stops.

Luque got a long rushing score in game one before turning on the jets for a hat trick of touchdowns against GK.

Flag football carries the unique aspect of any player, regardless of position, being able to score. That included Dale, who while playing snapper was utilized as a key receiver. “Don’t be upset to be a center because everybody is an eligible receiver in this game,” McCulley said about his words to his players. “Everybody can run routes, so you get to handle the ball every time, and you’re the closest to the quarterback for an outlet pass.”

Dale made the most of her position, reeling in a pair of receiving touchdowns against Bethel and finding the endzone again in the second contest.

All are learning

A Class of 2003 South Kitsap graduate and former three-sport athlete, McCulley found himself with an intriguing challenge for the winter athletic season: organizing and coaching the inaugural girls flag football team.

It was a daring task from the start given the short amount of time, mere weeks, to prepare for organized competition. SK was listed among 30 schools to receive funding from the Seattle Seahawks to jumpstart the program Oct. 24. The school officially announced the team’s formation a week later and McCulley was introduced as coach Nov. 7.

“I won’t say fly by night, but it’s been very kind of hurried,” he said. “They didn’t know if this was going to happen, and then the Seahawks cut the checks and greenlit it, and it was like, ‘Here we go.’”

The effort to grow interest in girls flag football as a sanctioned high school sport has been spearheaded by the Seahawks since the NFL franchise’s grant-funding launch in 2021. Over 60 schools now field teams, and McCulley said he was pleasantly surprised with the initial interest taken by the local female student population.

“As we’re trying to get female participation up in sports, this is showing to be a good thing,” he said, noting a turnout of around 80 girls for tryouts. “We were talking like hopefully we’ll have enough to field a varsity, and then it was like if we had a setup and more coaching, we would have a C team.”

Ultimately, he said 32 girls made the varsity and JV squads.

Senior Emily Bennett said the hesitation to attend tryouts was little to none. “I grew up around loving the sport, ” she said, “and I just wanted to see what I can do.”

McCulley has worked to build a football team in a league where finesse, not brutality, is key to success. Flag football runs on a smaller field length of 70 yards, including the two 10-yard endzones, and a 30-yard width. Only seven players are allowed on the field for each team at a time, and the standard setup has junior varsity and varsity matchups taking place on separate ends of the field.

The sport is run on a strict no-contact ruleset, with the obvious exception of incidental hits and bumps. No helmets are worn, although interest has been shown in regulating soft-shell helmets in the future.

The rules give offenses the advantage, as players don’t need to block for the quarterback on passing plays and can rely on a fair bit of trickery with misdirection runs and throws.

There are other rule differences, such as a ball is declared dead after hitting the turf in any circumstance, meaning no fumbles. The offense is also more susceptible to penalties due to “no-run zones” and unique infractions for things such as “illegal screening.”

“It’s a brand-new sport,” the coach said. “It’s all new rules, so we’re all learning together.”

Learning on the fly isn’t just happening for players, but also coaches and even referees in the middle of games. One such referee meeting over a rule call may have cost the Wolves a chance to score in one game as a running clock is always used.

“They’ve revised the rule book twice now,” McCulley said. “The first time was two days before the jamboree, and then they say they just issued a new one out today, but I haven’t seen that one yet.”

However, the team has met that challenge among others. It was supplies provided at John Sedgwick Middle School that allowed initial practices to take place with the promised equipment – uniforms, flags, footballs – not delivered until days before the jamboree.

McCulley couldn’t help but be in awe of the uniqueness of it all. “I keep telling the girls that it’s the Wild West, and they’re the pioneers,” he said.

Despite the issues, Bennett said the team is already coming together nicely. “This is our team. This is our family. We’ve worked so hard to get where we are. I couldn’t wish for anything else.”

A Bethel ball carrier runs for an opening with Wolves defenders in pursuit.

A Bethel ball carrier runs for an opening with Wolves defenders in pursuit.