Flag football is the type of team sport that can feel foreign to the uninitiated. Fortunately for the Barrie North Vikings, they’ve shown they are well on their way.
Rookies and veterans alike suit up for the girls team with plenty of success.
“We’ve had the varsity team going since I was in Grade 9 and that was the first year we had our current coach, since he was the coach for the junior boys football team before that,” said safety Kate Robertson. “We aren’t supposed to be as good this year, but we’ve got a lot of good younger girls. Everyone coming back this year is enthusiastic and it’s so much fun.”
Despite the changeover from an experienced squad last year, the Vikings haven’t missed a beat, surrendering nothing more than a pair of punt singles in their first three games.
“Athletically, they’re all fantastic, but it’s just about getting that football IQ up to speed, which will help them get into position faster,” said Barrie North coach Jeff Fisher.
Robertson, now in her fourth year on the team, has picked up a few tricks of the trade as she’s gone along.
“From my spot, I just kind of follow where the quarterback goes and see if anyone is deep or not,” Robertson said. “(I) just watch their hips and arms, pretty much.”
She comes by her position honestly.
“I played in Grade 7 and 8 at Minesing (Central Public School) and played at my cottage when I was 10,” she said. “It’s been a lot of fun, this group of girls is amazing. I’m just used to playing football. My older sister played too, my younger brother is playing (tackle football) this year, so it runs in the family.”
The pipeline through Minesing Central has sparked the interest of some of Barrie North’s youngest players as well.
“I played (there) in Grade 7 and 8 and had no interest in football before that,” said Grade 9 student Brynn Sutton. “I made this motto at my old school to try out for every team and I really liked flag football. That made me want to try out for it at Barrie North as well.”
As the Vikings do not field a junior team, girls from Grades 9-12 play on the same squad. That means, in order for the team to continue along as it has for the past few seasons, Barrie North needs its younger students to step in and learn the game.
“(Entering Grade 9) is a big jump,” Fisher said. “It’s a brand new school, brand new area and brand new kids in their grade. To be out on the field with Grade 12s and, sometimes, Grade 13s, that is a big jump. If they’re really energetic and committed to coming out in Grade 9, then that’s a great thing. We seem to have a great feeder system from our local schools and the girls come in excited and eager to play.”
After they arrive at Barrie North ready to play, Fisher helps to get his players to the next level.
“You go over the basic rules, but a big part of it is getting used to using skills that you may not necessarily use in other sports,” Fisher said. “With football, there’s a lot of hard, quick cuts. Coverage in football, as well, is a lot different than coverage in other sports like basketball or hockey. It’s more of a stop and go type of thing and you reset. You coach them up on strategies, get their football knowledge up to speed, like understanding what plays to expect and, then, reading those plays.”
Sutton has had to adjust to a different sport than she’s used to.
“It’s a lot of staying focused, because if you don’t, you’ll get left behind and you won’t know what’s going on,” she said. “You have to watch the ball, but you also have to watch the people around you. It’s really hands-on and you have to be focused that whole time.”
As she gets used to playing flag football at the high-school level, her older teammates have played a big role in making the Grade 9 students feel welcome.
“They’ve really taken the chance to get to know your name,” Sutton said. “Usually, people won’t remember my name, or they’ll say it wrong. But they’ve taken the chance to help you along. If you mess up, they’ll tell you it’s okay, and how to fix it. From their experience, they really help out a lot.”
Photo: Barrie North’s defenders swarm to take a flag off of the Banting ball carrier in recent regular-season action. Stephen Sweet photo