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Flag football: more than a game

| Monday, September 19, 2016

With the college football and National Football League seasons well underway, Notre Dame students have been anticipating the kickoff of one more season: flag football, which officially began on Sunday.

A decades-old tradition at Notre Dame dating back to 1975, flag football has become an integral part of the fall semester for many students. Assistant director of intramural sports Arianne Judy said this is partly due to the inclusive nature of the sport.

A student representing Welsh Family Hall evades a defender from Pangborn Hall during a women's interhall flag football championship in Notre Dame Stadium in Nov. 2014.Observer File Photo

A student representing Welsh Family Hall evades a defender from Pangborn Hall during a women’s interhall flag football championship in Notre Dame Stadium in Nov. 2014.

“Flag football is kind of … a sport that skill and previous knowledge … play a part in people being successful or wanting to participate, but … you don’t have to have that knowledge and/or experience and you can still participate in it,” Judy said. “Typically, if you think of gender norms or stereotypical kids growing up, a lot of women don’t get the opportunity to play [football]. And so that’s what makes our interhall league so popular and so much fun.”

Sophomore Meg Wagner, co-captian of the Pasquerilla West Hall B team, echoed Judy and said she was happy to be able to pick up the sport so easily without any prior experience.

“I was a cheerleader so I never played … [anything] that involved catching a ball or doing anything like that. So last year when I came out I was really nervous,” Wagner said. “It comes really easily. I thought for sure I would just be riding the bench, but I played and it was not as hard as I thought it would be. It’s definitely fun and easy to pick up.”

Popularity for the women’s interhall flag football league, with 14 women’s halls represented in the A league and seven with additional teams in the B league this year, also stems from its affiliation with community, Judy said.

“There’s definitely that community base to it, and I think with that comes the accountability piece, too,” she said. “There’s that hall allegiance.”

Wagner said she uses flag football as a way to meet more people in her hall who she wouldn’t necessarily cross paths with otherwise.

“I’ve become closer with girls I wouldn’t have been friends with,” she said. “There’s a lot of freshmen and girls that aren’t in my section, so I get to know them just because I’m on their team and we play together and get to work at practice together.”

Another attraction for the women’s interhall leagues is the championship games being held on the field in Notre Dame Stadium, Judy said, an honor originally reserved only for the men’s interhall tackle football games.

“We are very fortunate to have the relationship that we have with athletics as far as being able to use that facility,” she said. “Here, it’s different just because of the rich tradition and the football history for the students to be able to play on the field. It is a big deal to play at Knute Rockne’s stadium.”

Wagner said she and her team appreciate the significance of this unique opportunity.

“It’s a very rare experience, obviously,” she said. “To be on the Notre Dame football field is not something that many kids get to do even when they go here, so being able to have pictures and to have that memory is really special just because Notre Dame football is such a big deal, so when you get older, being able to say that you were on the field and you actually got to play a game is very rare and special.”

Judy said there are other factors that lead to participation in co-rec or all-campus men’s flag football teams, such as wanting to play a sport with friends that might be outside one’s hall.

“In our co-rec leagues, it really is dependent that you reach out and get teams together with friends and people that are outside,” she said. “It’s more of an opportunity to get your friends together … [and] it brings in a mix of students.”

Senior flag football official Timothy Zdunek said he was excited to discover how many students participated in flag football in one way or another.

“I knew that interhall tackle football was big for the guys’ dorms, but I didn’t realize how big it could be for, obviously, the women’s dorms and then co-rec and all-campus guys leagues,” Zdunek said. “I was rather surprised to see how so many students competed in flag football here. It was really great to see.”

Judy said each flag football league plays by the National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) rules, which have been adjusted over the years to create a more unique environment for the sport.

“Originally, I think that they tried to have a large affiliation with high school rules for tackle football — obviously modified to make flag football a non-contact sport,” she said. “I think that, over time, they really have focused on creating rules that are more in line with creating the atmosphere that they want.”

These rules are enforced by student officials, creating an additional entry point for students who want to be involved with flag football in some way. Zdunek said he became a flag football official to become involved with football on campus, even though he doesn’t play.

“It just looked really cool as a way to get close to the action and everything without playing because I know I’m not exactly the greatest athlete in the world,” he said. “This was a way for me to really stay involved in that kind of stuff.”

For Wagner, the women’s interhall B league serves as a good way for students who live in dorms where flag football is too popular for just one team to get involved.

“It’s really nice just because I don’t think I’m skilled enough to be on A team, [and] it’s a lot less pressure,” Wagner said. “So obviously, the girls that are competitive and want to have a competitive nature go up on A team and that’s for them, but B team is a lot more relaxed and low-pressure. And we have a lot more fun, I think.”

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About Courtney Becker

Courtney is a junior from New York City majoring in film, television and theater with a minor in journalism, and currently serving as News Editor. She is a proud resident of Pasquerilla West Hall and a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

Contact Courtney