As March Madness takes the forefront of many sports fans’ minds, here at Texas Lifestyle Magazine we still keep an eye out for local talent as well (and most of our brackets are completely thrown off now). While most of the world was focused on the Super Bowl in February, there was another football tournament taking place just just up the road.
Youth flag football teams from all over the county came together to compete in the NFL Flag Championship in San Francisco. With a total of 32 teams facing off for titles among their respective divisions, it just wouldn’t be a real competition without Texas on the turf. And sure enough, Texas football fans can rest easy because a group of very talented girls brought home the title. In the 13-14 Girls Division, the Steelers — who hail from the Austin area — worked hard to beat talented teams from across the country to become the 2015 NFL Flag Champions for the second year in a row.
This isn’t just some fluff league by any stretch of the imagination. For many of the people involed, it’s a community. For the Steerlers, it’s a family that’s been growing for more than a decade. Now into his seventh year of coaching, David Lapping has watched many of his players develop every step of the way.
“Normally what we do is start the kids young and watch them grow up,” he explained. “The team last year, where a lot of our players graduated — we had been coaching them since they were eight years old. So it’s kind of fun to see the kids grow up and go all the way to win the national championship. This year was a little bit different because we had players from all over the city, which is something we’ve not done before. But it worked out. We’ve got some good kids and good parents and a lot of great times.”
It’s no secret that football is big in Texas, and these girls take it just a seriously as any high school team gearing up for Friday night. They knew that some of their toughest teams to beat were planning ahead for the faceoff and even studied tape on each other.
“We do. Everyone does,” he explained, in reference to studying game footage. “Once you get into the nationals tournament, everyone does. For a regional tournament, everyone’s out here to have fun. The regionals are still a little bit ‘let’s have some fun,’ and we’ve always done very well at those, but once you get to the nations though, everyone’s an amazing team. Everyone’s taking it seriously.”
Outside of competing for the championship, these girls stay active playing in local leagues facing off against coed teams and attending training camps to keep their heads in the game.
Jaedyn Sapinoro, who just finished her second year on the team, keeps a positive attitude when preparing for nationals.
“It’s a fun experiencing it, because it’s kind of showing that girls can really do stuff, and we get to meet new people and make bonds with your team members,” she explained. “You just play your hardest and beat some boys — show ‘em up.”
At a recent training camp, Sapinoro made her presence known and respected when she was the only girl in attendance.
“It kind of shocks them too because they’re like ‘why is this girls here?’ But then when they see you do the stuff you do they’re like, ‘oh wow she can actually do stuff.’”
Just like in the pros, these girls have had to work hard to get to the final showdown. Regular practices, learning plays and much more along the way, they’ve definitely put in just as much blood, sweat and tears as any boys team — so don’t count them out! Thier experience with the tournament was much like what you’d expect for NFL teams. They were flown out to San Francisco for a press day and all the festivities of the NFL’s Superbowl.
“There’s a huge crowd watching you. You just feel like you’re in the spotlight. It’s an experience you’ll never forget,” Sapinoro explained as she recalled her highlights of the championship. “Our player Dee Dee, she had a pick six, and we needed one extra point to win, but the first time we missed it, but there was a flag on the play. We had got half the distance to the goal and a repeat of play, and we caught it the second time and 7-6 was the final score.”
With two titles under her belt, Sapinoro is glad to see what hard work can achieve, and she hopes other girls are encouraged to push for their dreams as well.
“Work your hardest,” she said. “There’s no limitation to what you can do. I didn’t play on the Steelers, I’d always watch them and dream to play with them and then last year I got to achieve that and play with them and help win the nationals.”