For the first time in years, AT added a new sport to its roster with the addition of a girls flag football team. Having heard the significant successes of the district rival Willowbrook, many girls expressed an interest to implement it at AT.
Coach Jenifer Schulmeister said, “We had quite a few students mentioning that they were super interested in it once they heard about Willowbrook putting together a team. Then a lot of excitement came from social media of seeing other schools and peers participating in teams like that.”
Once interest was confirmed, the next challenge was finding a coach. Many students approached Schulmeister knowing her availability and past experience with the sport. Schulmeister said, “It was presented to me by a couple of students that we’re pushing to try and get a team here. They knew I was no longer coaching a fall sport because I stopped coaching volleyball and I loved flag football when I was participating in the formerly called Powder Puff.”
After finding their coach the pieces finally started to align for the team, with more additions coming along the way. The team was able to convince Megan King to be a coach and ended up having a strong squad of 29 girls.
A New Opportunity for Underclassmen
At the opening of girls flag football’s first season at AT, the program consisted of one team. Girls flag football opened its arms to eager athletes of every grade level. Freshman athletes Ace Mendez and Karen Juarez tried out for the squad with high hopes for the team’s inaugural season.
Juarez first heard of flag football from a friend, when word came out of Flag Football’s arrival at AT. She had “never heard of it,” but after her friend explained the sport to her as “football but for females,” she “got excited and decided to join.”
Juarez had expressed an interest in football for some time now, noting that she “had wanted to do football,” but never had an opportunity to play the sport herself.
One incredible quality of the Flag Football team lies within the core relationships built between both the players and coaches. “We have a lot of strengths… we are like a family,” said Freshman Ace Mendez. “We pick each other up when one of us might be struggling.”
Juarez attested to this, agreeing that having “each other” has been key in the team’s overall success.
Even in their opening season, Mendez and Juarez both made an effort to set personal goals for their improvement as team players and athletes.
Mendez sought out to improve her play by becoming a “better defender” and getting “as many flags” as she could.
Juarez too looked to better her “defense” and build an even stronger relationship with the team.
As the season comes to a close for the team both girls are confident Flag Football will continue to grow and thrive and AT. They have full confidence the team can make it to the finals as they enter the postseason with an astounding 7-2 record.
Giving It Their Blazer Best
Having no expectations or precedent going into the season the team has given everybody at AT something to talk about. With a record of 7-2, they have taken the league by surprise. The team’s offense has been one of their strongest assets. A major highlight for them was the 72-0 win against Larkin that they posted on homecoming night.
However, the impressive results have not come easily for the team. They quickly ran into a problem with athletes being allowed to play in another sport along with flag football. “We are allowing students to participate in more than one sport at a time and more than one club at a time,” said Schulmeister. “Which I think weighs heavily on all of the coaches, being on the same page of sharing athletes.”
To combat the problem the team decided to switch up how they were going to do practices. They decided their best plan of attack was two after-school practices and an evening practice per week. In the end, it seems to have paid off so much that the team is looking to keep the same plan for practices in the seasons going forward.
Another problem the team had to overcome was building chemistry throughout the team as many of the team had differing levels of experience with sports going into it. “We’ve got girls that have never played a sport before that came out and have been killing it. Students who might not have ever been involved have really dove into this and are super excited,” said Schulmeister.
Through many of their struggles, the team has never doubted their ability and carries on what it truly means to be a Blazer.
The Girl’s Flag Football team has shed light on what AT will be capable of accomplishing for years to come. Not only has the team provided an exemplary record for a brand new sport at AT, but the players have redefined the very definition of Blazer Pride. The passion and enthusiasm of each and every player was made clear to the AT student body, community, and fans of every background.
Hopes are extremely high for the playoffs alone, leaving even more excitement to come throughout the offseason, as the team prepares to continue their legacy next season.
Junior Emma Canigilia believes that “the next upcoming seasons of flag football are going to go places,” and that the team should expect a “big turnout based on all the girls who joined this year.”
One major step the team plans to make heading into next year is ratifying Girls Flag Football as an IHSA sport. So far the team has competed with teams from anywhere within the area, but an IHSA affiliation would mean the team would face fellow West Suburban Conference teams, similar to Boys Football.
Flag Football will undoubtedly rank high among the most influential and celebrated sports in AT’s history. It is exciting to think this has only been their first season, and much more is expected to come.