As a crowd gathered in the bleachers, the Mount Si Girls Flag Football team took the field for the program’s inaugural home game.
Hosting Lincoln and Stadium high schools in a doubleheader Jan. 25, the Wildcats varsity team notched victories five and six of the year, bringing their overall record to 6-1, with one regular season game remaining prior to a four-team playoff.
The occasion marked a celebratory moment for a program starting its first full season that, not long ago, was nothing more than an idea being floated by members of the school’s soccer team.
“We created this whole club,” said Scobby Reid, a senior and one of the team’s founding members. “We used to have no one out here and now everyone’s supporting and watching the games. It’s a huge change.”
While helping coach the girls soccer team, Mount Si coach Kelly Besmer said they were passing a football around a few times while warming up for practice, when a couple of players asked her what it would take to start a flag football team.
A Mount Si grad, Besmer has a soccer and track background, but has developed a passion for football over the last five years, playing a season with the Seattle Majestics of the Women’s National Football League last year.
Besmer has also spent time coaching wide receivers on the boys football team, an experience she said showed her the allure of the sport.
“When I finally got to be on the sidelines with the football team, I realized that football has this extra magic vibe to it when the community gets involved,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘if we had something like this for our girls, that would be so cool.’”
Girls flag football is novel in Washington. At the high school level, the Seattle and Tacoma school districts each support a league among its high schools. The Wildcats, being the only team outside those districts, opts to play against nine Tacoma schools.
That means every away game for Mount Si this season involves an hour-plus long bus trip to Tacoma, making the home game in Snoqualmie even sweeter.
“Best feeling ever,” Reid said.
While there is a burgeoning interest in girls flag football, it has yet to be supported by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), the state’s governing body of prep sports. Mount Si’s team, for example, functions as a student body club, rather than a state-sponsored sport.
But that is something that could change. Two years ago, the Seattle Seahawks committed $250,000 over a five-year span to the WIAA to support the creation of several girls flag teams statewide, with a long-term goal of getting girls flag football sanctioned by the state.
The Seahawks announcement coincided with Besmer’s effort to start a team at Mount Si.
Beginning with only nine players and attending initial scrimmages in DIY-style jerseys made with T-shirts and duct tape, Mount Si’s team has grown in both size and legitimacy over the last year, said Isabel Phalen, a junior and one of the team’s founding members.
While they attended a jamboree event last year, this season marked their first string of games. Their success, having only lost one game thus far, comes despite a lack of formal football experience and a small roster size compared to the other teams, Phalen said. Lincoln’s team, for example, has almost double the number of players, she said.
“It was a slow start figuring out where to play. I remember we had to start on the tennis courts because we didn’t have permission to be on the field,” Phalen said. “This year has picked up pretty fast.”
Now the team has over 30 players and, alongside Besmer, has added a handful of assistant coaches from the boys team, including recently retired head coach Charlie Kinnune.
A good portion of the team are soccer players, like Reid and Phalen, or softball players. But there’s also a mix of players from other sports, or those who aren’t part of any other programs.
As far as the program’s future, Besmer sees it as an up and coming sport, and called it an honor to provide the opportunity to girls at Mount Si.
“There’s so many girls here that grew up in football families or had brothers that play, and then some girls just haven’t found a sport that works for them,” she said. “This is something that I wish could have happened when I was in high school.”