Local trio makes history with first NJ Girls Flag Football North-South All-Star Game

Fatma Mohamed, Marcella Blancato and Rasha Abdeljalil.

Harrison’s Fatma Mohamed and Rasha Abdeljalil as well as Marcella Blancato of Nutley have been trend-setters for the sport of girls flag football since the moment their schools started playing a little more than a year ago.

Perhaps at no point were they more aware of that than when they took the field on June 11 for the first ever NJ Girls Flag Football North-South All-Star Game held in front of roughly 2,000 people at Kean University.

“They kept on mentioning to us that we were trailblazers of this event,” Blancato said. “And that it was really, really cool to hear and be a part of.

“I didn’t believe it at first because I haven’t been given a lot of opportunities, especially as a girl, to play sports in high school,” said Mohamed about the opportunity to play in the game. “I was just shocked that I was able to play in something that was bigger than me.”

Mohamed wasn’t just a part of a history, she made some as well, catching an 11-yard touchdown pass from Irvington’s Janasia Wilson on the game’s final play from scrimmage to give the North team the 20-14 victory.

“I locked eyes with the quarterback, I knew it was coming to me and I knew I had to catch it,” said Mohamed of what was her only catch of the game. “That’s all I did honestly.

“I was a little nervous, but I knew I could do it. I was excited to prove everyone wrong.”

“It’s awesome to see her score a touchdown in an all-star game like this. Not only for her, but for the whole town,” Harrison head coach and member of the North’s coaching staff Dan Nankivell said. “I was immediately getting text messages after Fatma scored the touchdown because like half the town is here. It’s awesome and I’m proud of her.”

With several people from Harrison in the stands, Mohamed could feel the support, which was helpful with fighting any nerves from a massive crowd.

“This is probably the biggest crowd I’ve played in front of,” Mohamed said. “Honestly, with everyone coming to support, it felt a lot easier than it normally would. Just having the whole town behind my back and cheering me on definitely helped.”

In total, 53 players from 33 different schools represented the game that has exploded in popularity in just three seasons. Neither Harrison nor Nutley were a part of the original 16 teams to girls flag football when Nike, the NFL and its 32 teams introduced HS Girls Flag Football in 2021. This spring saw 80 schools across the state have a team, a total that also includes Lyndhurst and North Arlington.

“It’s grown a lot. This is only our second year, but to be here and see how many girls teams that are around New Jersey is crazy,” said Abdeljalil. “You really realize how much it’s grown.”

“The sport has exploded. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything grow so fast, especially in my sports career,” Nankivell said. “It’s awesome to see and it should grow quickly because it is an awesome game. Anyone who has gotten the chance to watch a game has seen that.”

The sport will assuredly continue to grow. Phil Simms, who has lent his name to the North-South Games in recent years, told NJ Advance Media that next year the girls will be allotted the time for a full game and its own time slot, rather than this year where they were given 20 minutes during halftime of the main North-South Game.

One thing Abdeljalil, Blancato and Mohamed do know is that as the game and the sport continues to grow, they’ll be able to always say that they were the first. It’s something they fully intend to tell to future generations.

“I hope that this is a tradition every year,” said Mohamed. “I would love to one day take kids here and tell them that I played in the first game and explain to them that this started not too long ago.”

Learn more about the writer ...

Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer

Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)