with Michael Betteridge

A Century Later:

An Old Sport with a New Name

On October 11, 1923, a new sport was launched in Frederick County: field ball. This was an 11-on-11 game for girls, played on a field where the players ran up and down the field passing the ball to each other and trying to put it through a goal. It was kind of like basketball on a soccer field. In that first game, Frederick defeated Thurmont 13-0. This girls’ sport was played up until the 1940s when it eventually died out.

One hundred years later, field ball is back. Only now, we call it flag football. Flag football is not a new sport, and girls playing football is not new either. But girls playing flag football is new and exciting and is taking off all over Frederick County.

As a culture, we have been trying for the past 50 years to redefine the role of women in sports. It has been a difficult process. And, uniquely, because of the contact involved, football has been one of the few sports where women rarely competed.

When I was in my early 20s, I remember my brother burst into my bedroom shouting: “Quick, quick, Joe Garagiola is over at Jackie’s house, interviewing her.” 

Well, Joe was a really big name in sports broadcasting, so I knew this was huge. It was huge because our next-door neighbor had just made the first cut on the Washington Senators baseball team. The first woman ever to enter Major League baseball. Jackie could hum a fastball. Jackie never made it past the second cut. There are no breakthrough female athletes in Major League baseball or the NFL. However, women have managed to break through the coaching barrier at the NFL level.

While coaching youth football, I remember playing Chambersburg in the opening round of the playoffs at the Gettysburg High School field. Fairfield and Chambersburg were tied at the end of regulation. The tie-breaker formula was to line up on the 10-yard line. Each team had four downs to score. Chambersburg won the toss, lined up, and immediately punched it in behind their big strong fullback. When that fullback took off her helmet and smiled at the crowd, one of my players gasped and said, “She’s a girl.”

Girls can play football. Several years ago, I was asked to broadcast an Arena Football game at the Frederick Sports Complex. After the game, the Baltimore Charm began practice. It was the Ladies’ Lingerie Football league. Leaving the word “lingerie” out of the discussion for a minute, these were some big, strong athletic women, playing a dangerous contact sport at collision speeds, and they were good! That lingerie thing was just silly. It defines the struggle, once again, over the identity of women’s sports.

One hundred years later, high school girls’ sports have overcome the challenges of stereotypes, and an exciting new sport has evolved this fall: High School Girls Flag Football. 

The Catoctin Cougars flag football team is coached by former Catoctin Cougar’s softball and basketball star, Lizzie Dougherty. Lizzie graduated from Catoctin in 2018. Lizzie drove in the tying run in the CMC championship softball game that helped her team beat Linganore for the County softball title. Ironically, her Cougars softball coach, Jess Valentine, is now the head coach of the Tuscarora Titans girls flag football team. These two former Cougar players stood across the field from each other last September 20—mentor versus mentee, coach versus player, now coach against coach. We covered the game broadcast, and it was truly a surreal moment seeing Coach Valentine in Tuscarora green. Apparently, you can coach at more than one school in more than one sport. Case in point, next spring, you will see Coach Valentine back in Cougars blue in the dugout with Lizzie Dougherty, an assistant softball coach. It’s a good thing the Cougars don’t play Tuscarora in softball this year. That could be very confusing for some of the Tuscarora players.

The rules for flag football are very different from regular football. The field is smaller. There are no kickoffs or punts. The game demands speed and agility, not strength and power. You can expect a lot of fun trick plays that utilize backs and receivers in motion and counter plays to fool defenses. With a running clock and two 20-minute halves, the game was over in a blink. It lasted one hour and four minutes. It was truly a learning experience for our broadcast team. We enjoyed it immensely. We were very impressed with the speed of Tuscarora. They are fast and athletic. Coach Valentine even dialed up some old school gadgetry, pulling the Statue of Liberty play out for a nice gain in the second half.

Our Lady Cougars were led by senior quarterback Peyton Davis, who ripped off some pretty good runs of her own. Maddie Ohler made some great catches and showed some real finesse and running ability. Maddie, Kayden Glotfelty, Mackenzie Lewis, and Aubrie Courtney looked like the same excellent athletes we saw in the state championship softball game last May. Morgan Gregory was the defensive star of the game for Catoctin. She had six tackles and one quarterback sack.

There are two more home games on the schedule for the Lady Cougars flag football team: Wednesday, October 4, and Wednesday, October 11. Put a star on one of those dates on your calendar and head over to the new, beautiful Catoctin football stadium to enjoy some electrifying, girls flag football. What a great way to spend an evening. Go Cougars!

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