At first thought, the idea seemed preposterous. Girls actually playing a boys’ sport like football?
But when the New York Jets floated the idea of starting a competitive flag football league strictly for high school girls, the once-perceived dream became a full-fledged reality.
Some 40 New Jersey high schools have committed to the first-ever flag football league, operating outside of the NJSIAA, the state’s governing body, with the Jets funding the entire operation, soup to nuts. The Jets are providing football, flags, belts, uniforms, yard markers, you name it.
The idea intrigued Lyndhurst head football coach Rich Tuero, who is the father of two young daughters. Tuero, who will coach Lyndhurst’s team during the spring months, was more than happy to add coaching the girls’ team to his already jam-packed coaching schedule with his normal football responsibilities and girls’ track and field, a title he added this year.
“I have two daughters and I know how happy they will be to have a chance to play football,” Tuero said. “When I told my older daughter Sophia that we were getting a girls’ football team, she was so excited. She absolutely loves the game and wants to be around every practice we have. When I told her, she knows she can come and be with the girls.”
The games will be a little different than boys’ games. The teams will play 7-on-7 instead of the traditional 11-man teams. And of course, there will be no tackling. The plays will stop when someone snares a flag off the belt of the player.
But it’s football and it’s coming this spring. Each team will get eight regular season games and then there will be playoffs. It’s the real deal.
“It’s a great thing,” Tuero said. “It’s exciting. It’s really a neat thing and it’s great that the Jets are doing this. They’re really stepping up for these girls.”
The Jets had a press conference recently on National Women in Sports Day and invited each team with a participant to visit the Jets’ locker rooms with the girls’ names on a name plate. Former Lyndhurst resident Kimberley A. Martin, a current broadcaster on ESPN, was on hand to welcome the girls, along with Kay Adams of the NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” daily show.
Lyndhurst’s representative at the presser was senior Alessandra Alberti, who has never participated in a sport before, other than cheerleading.
“I’ve been cheering for four years,” Alberti said. “This is an opportunity for me to play a sport. When I heard about it, I said, ‘This needs to be done.’ I was super excited. I never thought I would have an opportunity to play a sport. I couldn’t be more excited. It’s going to give my senior year a final bang.”
Fellow senior Claudia Lapinski, who plays soccer in the fall, said that she wanted to get involved because of Tuero.
“I’ve known Coach Tuero for a long time now and I know when he’s passionate about something, then you want to be a part of it,” Lapinski said. “I know he wanted to try this out, so I was in.”
Lapinski plays goalie for the soccer team, so she knows all about contact.
“I have no fear,” said Lapinski, who hopes to study biology at Lehigh University in the fall with the ultimate hope of going to dental school. “I can do this.”
Lapinski couldn’t contain her excitement.
“Everyone thinks that football is a boys’ sport,” Lapinski said. “Well, we’re going to be the first, so we have to show everyone that girls can play football, too. We’re the ones bringing the sport to our school. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. A lot of my friends have all signed up and hope to play. And Coach Tuero is the best. So I’m really excited for it.”
Lapinski thinks that she can play running back.
“I’m not a quarterback, because I can’t throw it,” Lapinski said. “But I can run.”
The initial interest meeting drew more than 40 girls. The Jets will supply gear for 25 players.
“It’s super awesome,” Alberti said. “I’m getting the chance to learn the game. I was never the athletic one in my family, but now I’m getting the chance to prove I can do something athletic. It’s a spot for me to prove that I’m the athletic sister. I think the school is really thrilled to have the program. I know I can’t wait to get it started.”
Tuero said he’s not going to do anything differently as a girls’ football coach that he does as a boys’ grid coach.
“We’re going to teach the fundamentals,” Tuero said. “And I told them all that I’m going to be the same coach. The approach will be the same.”
The girls don’t seem to mind. They are setting the tone for years to come.
“I guess you can say I’m like a trailblazer,” Lapinski said. “I think this is something that will stick. So we will set the standard for everyone else. It’s the real thing. It’s not a joke. I think it’s something that we’re going to set for seasons to come.”
Let the games begin. Harrison will also field a team, but has not decided on a coach by press time.
Lyndhurst senior Alessandra Alberti (center) took a visit to the New York Jets’ locker room, where her name appeared on a name plate in honor of the Jets funding the formation of a girls’ flag football league this spring. Joining Alberti are head coach Rich Tuero (left) and assistant coach Danny Kesack (right). Photo courtesy of Rich Tuero.
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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”