POUGHKEEPSIE – Poughkeepsie High School has a new football team that is part of a pilot program throughout the state. The varsity girls flag football team is part of a New York State Public High School Athletic Association program with about 150 teams across the state.
Flag football was an emerging sport last spring and will be a regional championship this spring, becoming a state championship event in the 2023-24 school year, Chris Watson, director of communications for NYSPHSAA said.
The program is a collaboration with the New York Jets, Giants and Buffalo Bills.
“It is an opportunity to offer the sport of football to female student athletes who have wanted to play but have not had the opportunity before,” he said.
That is true in Poughkeepsie’s case.
Senior Christiana Cortez said she played soccer from sixth through ninth grade and was interested in football. “When I spoke to them they wouldn’t let girls play on the boys team. I heard about flag football and so I felt it would be good to get outdoors, stay active and get back into sports,” she said.
Teammate Jiahni Higgs, a junior, manages the boys basketball and football teams and planned to try out for the boys team next year.
“This is my preparation for that,” she said, adding that she also wants to be an example for students who have some form of physical limits. Higgs said she has an injury that limits some of her movement but can still play flag football.
Coach Stephanie Connolly said she is excited to coach the first girls flag football team in the district.
“I want to develop their knowledge, exposure and give them the foundation to be successful,” Connolly said, adding that sportsmanship, energy, enthusiasm and social-emotional elements are all aspects of the team.
The team is competing in Section 1 where it is one of 16 teams as Section 9 had fewer teams, according to Peter Bianco, athletic director.
Ninth graders Tiffany Walters and Bianca Rodriguez wanted to try a new sport so they decided to come out for the team.
“You miss every shot you don’t take,” Walters said.
Connolly said more girls have expressed interest and she is hoping to see them at practice. Seven athletes are needed to compete.
Cortez said the sport was an “opportunity to put myself out there. To be brave. It builds confidence to try something new.” She encouraged classmates to get over being scared to try it.
NYSPHSAA’s Watson agrees. “Like any interscholastic sport, this is all about opportunity and participation. We love seeing the number of female student-athletes take advantage of this chance and make the most of it.”
After a short stretch and warm-up run Wednesday afternoon, Connolly and assistant coach Za’ire People worked with the athletes on throwing and catching drills.