Las Vegas Sun

July 24, 2017

Currently: 94° — Complete forecast

high school sports:

New sport allows girls to thrive on gridiron, try hand at something different

Flag football makes its debut as a district sport to give girls another winter option


Leila Navidi

The Cimarron-Memorial girls flag football teams cheers after beating Arbor View at Cimarron-Memorial High School on Monday, November 26, 2012.

Girls Flag Football

Briana Callejo, left, of Cimarron-Memorial gets her flag taken by Stacie Flores of Arbor View during their girls flag football game at Cimarron-Memorial High School on Monday, November 26, 2012. Launch slideshow »
Prep Sports Now

What's the line on Gorman vs. Liberty?

It's the game everyone expected for the state championship — Bishop Gorman vs. Liberty. Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer play oddsmaker and try to set the appropriate line on the game. They settle on Gorman -25, with opinions split on which team covers at Sam Boyd Stadium Saturday.

When a player from the Cimarron-Memorial High School football team jumped offsides Monday during the first half of a game against visiting Arbor View, the referee reached for his flag but decided not to throw it for the obvious penalty.

It was the first week of games, and for most of the players, it was their first time playing the sport — a fact referees considered with their restrained penalty calling. They were immediately questioned by one of the Arbor View coaches for the blown call.

The high school football season ended for most schools earlier this month. Monday, you see, was the debut of another prep football season: girls flag football.

“I get it. It’s girls flag football,” the Arbor View assistant coach loudly yelled. “But it’s still a real sport.”

This is the first year the Clark County School District has offered flag football, which took soccer’s place on the winter sports slate for female students. Each school in the district has a varsity team of 15 to 20 players, including several who played soccer this fall.

While Cimarron was victorious 19-0 behind of pair of touchdown runs from Briana Callejo, the general consensus is all players across the valley were winners Monday and Tuesday during the season openers because they are learning an activity of which they previously had little knowledge. Some are football fans and watch games at home, and others played in youth leagues during their childhood. However, an overwhelming majority are first-time players.

When a penalty was called later in the game, one of the Arbor View players asked the coach to translate the referee’s hand signal when he called out the infraction.

“At first it was just confusion,” Callejo said. “We would do plays and everyone would be lost. But we did it multiple times and starting getting the hang of it.”

It wasn’t the first time rules had to be explained. Later in the game, officials brought the coaches to midfield, pulled out a copy of the rules and discussed clarifying one of the sport’s nuances.

There are some obvious differences between flag football and tackle football. In the District’s flag rules, there is no kicking or punting, teams play seven players at a time, the field is 80 yards long by 40 yards wide, first downs can be earned at three spots (by crossing either 20-yard line or midfield), the quarterback can only rush once per possession and games consist of a pair of 20-minute halves with a running clock until the final two minutes. Also, points after touchdown attempts are worth one point from the 5-yard line if converted and two points from the 10-yard line.

Click to enlarge photo

Tiffany Hargrove of Cimarron-Memorial runs with the ball during their girls flag football game against Arbor View at Cimarron-Memorial High School on Monday, November 26, 2012.

“It’s neat to be part of something the first year they are running it,” Arbor View coach John Gunderson said. “It has been great to just teach the girls about football. That is the biggest challenge. You have 10 days to learn an offense, learn a defense, when you have a whole summer or whole year to learn in regular football.”

Launching a new sport didn’t happen overnight. It required much coordination between district officials, coaches and the referee association. On Monday, none of the extra work mattered because the end result was what everyone desired. Girls involved in a new sport and having fun signaled a successful after-school activity.

Ray Mathis, the district’s executive director for instructional support and student activities, and district Athletic Director Pam Sloan attended games — like they do other events — and administrators for both schools were on the sidelines at Cimarron.

“We had to basically start from scratch because we didn’t have anything to go from,” Mathis said. “No district in the state had this. It’s been exciting. The numbers are certainly larger than we expected. If we would have know, we would have went for two levels.”

Flag football helps the district reach its gender equity balance because it gets more than 500 girls involved. Next year, they hope participation will spike enough to offer a junior varsity level.

Each school was given about $3,000 from the district to buy equipment and uniforms, which are similar to girls lacrosse uniforms with matching shorts and tops.

Both Gunderson and Cimarron’s Chauncy Garbutt coach in their school’s tackle football program in the fall. Those practices are spent primarily scheming to beat the opponent on Friday night. For flag football, it is more about teaching the basics of the game — where and how to line up, how to throw and catch the ball, and a few basic plays.

Several rushing plays were used Monday because quarterbacks — Cimarron had three attempt a pass — still are mastering the skill of throwing accurately. They’ve been practicing for about three weeks, and each team has a small playbook of six to eight plays. Some schools had intrasquad scrimmages over the weekend, and others had so much interest they had to make cuts.

“You start with the basics,” Garbutt said. “I coached freshman football for about three years. They are the same as the girls. They don’t know anything coming in. That is where you start with a stance and basics like how to catch the football. We ran one play until we got decent at it.

“You always want to win because that gets buy-in and people out to the game. But it is more about getting to love the sport and really having fun with it. We all don’t know what to expect with this.”

Arbor View’s Francesca D’Arienzo, a soccer player in the fall, carried the ball 17 times for 106 yards. Like several others, she was intrigued when she heard the school was starting a team and jumped at the chance to be part of the new sport.

That’s where the competitive side comes out with the players. While they were thrilled to be part of the first game, winning is the ultimate goal. There will be playoffs and a district champion.

Click to enlarge photo

Francesca D'Arienzo of Arbor View goes for the flag of Briana Callejo of Cimarron-Memorial during their girls flag football game at Cimarron-Memorial High School on Monday, November 26, 2012.

“Soccer season got switched, so I decided to do flag football because it seemed like something I would be pretty good at,” D’Arienzo said. “It is fun when you are practicing and playing, but losing is just hard. This is not as easy as I thought it would be. You have to go out there and make sure you know what you are doing. It is definitely a team sport, not just one person.”

D’Arienzo and Callejo dueled back and forth in receiving a majority of the touches. Callejo still had an ear-to-ear grin after the game. Scoring two touchdowns in her first football game was a reason to be happy.

It’s the kind of enjoyment school officials hoped for when launching the activity.

“I was happy. I was ecstatic and excited. Oh, my gosh,” Callejo said about her touchdowns. “I actually didn’t think I would make a touchdown, but I did.”

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy