By LOU PONSI     8/27/2023

Girls flag football is now an official high school sport in Orange County and all three Diocese of Orange Catholic high schools — Mater Dei, Rosary Academy and Santa Margarita — are fielding teams and ready to compete.

The California Interscholastic Federation, Southern Section (CIF-SS), the governing body for high school sports in Orange County and surrounding areas, approved a proposal in September 2022 to institute flag football for the 2023-24 season.

As soon as it became official, high school athletic departments reached out to the students to gauge the level of the students and the response was positive. “I went over to the school and had lunch meetings and people showed up and filled out their names and we ended up with a list of about 40 girls,” said Rosary flag football coach Matt Gogan, a Servite alum who will lead the Royals in their inaugural season. “We’ve had about 29 or 30 or so that have come out. Then it grew into the seventh- and eighth-graders who now are also showing interest and we’ve received some of those freshmen that have come in that are excellent athletes as well.”

A few members of Rosary’s team have experience playing flag football in private leagues such as Matt Leinart Flag Football and other organizations.

But those who’ve never played organized football play other sports and their skills and athleticism make for an easy transition to the gridiron. That is the case with Rosary’s Bella Contreras, who plays softball for the Royals and is trying her hand at football for the first time.

“I’ve never played anything else my entire life except softball,” said Contreras, one of two team captains. “So, when it was brought up at school, it was something new and just a breath of fresh air.”

Marisol Reza is a member of the Royals’ wrestling team (also a relatively new sport at Rosary) and learned about flag football from her coach Nadia Escamilla, who is also defensive coordinator for the Royals’ flag football team.

“Coach Nadia said it’s a good sport to play for conditioning,” said Reza, whose whole family plays football. “So, I decided to try a new sport again. I love it. I love the team. I love our coaches.”

Katie Meneses, the starting quarterback and co-captain is one of the few players on the Royals who have several years of experience in flag football.

Signing up for her was a no-brainer.

“I already kind of knew of Coach Gogan, so I thought that it was going to be an overall good program,” she said.

Girls flag football will be played in the fall, same as boys tackle football and while the object of flag football is essentially the same as traditional football, there are some major differences between the two sports.

Flag football games will be seven on seven, compared to 11 on 11 in traditional football.

The width of the fields are 30 yards minimum to 40 yards maximum, the length is 50 yards minimum to 80 yards maximum plus two end zones (10 yards each).

Games consist of two, 20-minute halves with a running clock until the last two minutes of each half. There are no kick-offs. Teams take possession of the football on their 20-yard line or on the 10-yard line for 50-yard fields. Touchdowns are six points and there are no point-after kicks. Successful conversions from five yards are one point. Blocking and tackling are not allowed, nor are moving screens or setting picks.

The Royals, Monarchs and Eagles will play in the Trinity League along with JSerra, Orange Lutheran and St. Joseph High School of Lakewood. CIF-SS playoffs will not take place in the inaugural season since less than 20% of the Southern Section’s member schools are fielding teams. However, teams will be permitted to organize their own playoff tournaments at the end of the regular season.
Teams are permitted to play up to 28 games during the season.

Mater Dei’s flag football team is being led by Coach Josh Goedl, who formerly served as strength and conditioning coach and linebacker coach for the Orange Lutheran football team. After he was officially announced as the Monarchs’ flag football coach in June, Goedl said he was proud to be representing a school with a such a deep athletic history.

“I will bring my level of expertise, drive and skills to these young ladies and I look forward to setting the bar high during this inaugural season,” Goedl said following the announcement.

Santa Margarita’s first ever flag football coach is Brad Finneran, a 2004 Santa Margarita graduate who played football and basketball for the Eagles and went on to play Division 1 college football at Villanova.

“I am looking forward to returning to Santa Margarita in this role and am excited about the inaugural girls flag football season,” said Finneran, when asked what he was most looking forward to in his new role.