The first high school in the county is used to breaking a lot of new ground, and they’re doing it again. Fayette County High has launched the first official girls flag football team, and the Tigers newest team is quickly earning their stripes.
After starting the season on the road, the Tigers hosted their home opener on Nov. 9, and they wowed the crowd with a thrilling come-from-behind win over Our Lady of Mercy. Trailing for most of the game, Nia Hence returned a punt for a 67-yard touchdown to take the lead with just 32 seconds to play. It will be a memorable highlight in a season of firsts for the inaugural team.
It has been a learning experience for everyone, but it’s been a joy growing together. For head coach Channing Welch, he had to learn the nuances of flag football and then pass it along to a team totally new to the sport.
“The ladies have responded very well. They are engaged every day at practice to try and improve their skills,” said Welch. “I have had several players take on a leadership role by encouraging players to meet up on the weekends to go over plays and formations. It has been wonderful to see all of the young ladies buy in to learning the game. They have improved every single week.”
While Welch thought he might only have a dozen girls interested in playing, he was thrilled to have more than 30 enthusiastic Tigers ready to roll.
“What I like most about my team is the fact that they actually came out and gave flag football a try. Most kids nowadays do not want to do anything that they feel like will make them look bad or something they have never done,” said Welch. “The ladies came out and gave maximum effort each day we were on the field. Most of my team started working out back in the summer, so they have sacrificed a lot of their time, and I am truly appreciative of that. This team, specifically the seniors, has done an outstanding job setting the foundation for our flag football program.”
When the GHSA added girls flag football as an official sport, athletic director Bill Stikes conducted an assessment to make sure it made sense for the Tigers, and the response was very positive.
“We felt like it was a great fit here – lots of students excited about it and good quality coaches interested,” said Stikes. “Expanding access to athletics is a goal of ours. We believe in education-based athletics, where sports are a driving force teaching students the soft skills necessary to succeed in life – core values like hard work, discipline, perseverance, and teamwork. This was an opportunity to get more students involved and help extend the lessons of the classroom onto the football field.”
There was immediate excitement around the school.
“We have had an outstanding response from our students, with large numbers trying out and interested in playing,” said Stikes. “The crowd at our first home game was excellent – it was great to see how many students came out to support the girls. The girls have been so excited about flag football, and it has been fun watching their improvement week to week.”