There’s a new sport on campus.
Over at Mercer Island High School (MIHS) this winter, the girls flag football squad invaded the field for its inaugural season in the club realm. Next season, it will step it up a notch and become an officially sanctioned Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) sport.
As footballs are flying and girls are running routes to snag them, coaches Kelly John-Lewis, Kristin Brintnall and Shannon Tapp are learning the ropes of the game simultaneously along with the abundance of players who are putting the sport on the map in Islander land.
Former Seattle Seahawk player and MIHS employee Courtney Taylor has joined the trio as a guest coach and helps run the offense with Brintnall. John-Lewis, a former football player, holds the defensive reins.
Junior Natalie Erickson is one of the players stepping into the flag sphere for the first time.
“I was drawn to play flag football because I always wanted to play football, but my friends always told me, ‘No.’ So when I knew of this opportunity, I told my friends I was doing it and I went and bought cleats,” she said.
In order to reap success in their first go-around on the 53-yard gridiron, Erickson added, “We’ve got to really be a team and figure how to run our plays.”
Next on the MIHS docket during its four-game season (plus a jamboree) will be a battle with Bellevue High School on the Wolverines’ turf at 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 8.
In flag, teams play two 20-minute halves, run their offense for four downs and squads receive six points for a touchdown and then attempt a PAT by running a play from scrimmage.
“They are learning plays. They are learning how to defend. It’s a lot of fun to see it unfold and have them learn how to run routes, how to pick up the lingo,” said Brintnall, who has never coached flag before but was a soccer coach for 10 years. “I was really excited about the opportunity of getting something off the ground level and starting out and teaching a sport that everybody’s on the same playing field.”
Camaraderie amongst all the teams sits atop Brintnall’s favorites list thus far during the flag campaign. Everyone has supported each other every step of the way on this new terrain.
On the MIHS side, Brintnall said that some of the players entered the flag ring as natural athletes — delivering speed and consistently throwing tight spirals from their quarterback position — while others are at step one in trying their hand at competing in sports.
On the eager newcomers who are starting to make an impact, Brintnall noted: “We’re like, ‘You’re an athlete, you step out on that field, you’re an athlete.’ It’s fun to see that dynamic, too, out on the playing field where (the Islanders are) so different yet they’re playing for one common thing.”
Last March, the Seattle Seahawks announced that they had kicked in $57,000 in grant funding headed to 15 high schools — including MIHS — in six regional school districts to field flag teams. In 2022, the NFL organization pledged to allocate $250,000 in funding over the next five years to institute programs statewide.
In a previous Reporter article, MIHS Athletic Director Lindsey Blaine noted about the forthcoming Islander program: “Our athletes, parents and community are very excited to bring this sport to MIHS and add another opportunity for girls to participate in sport.”