Creswell, Sports Zone, Springfield

FLAG BEARERS: Creswell dominates girls flag football debut against Sheldon, Thurston

CRESWELL – Creswell High School held its inaugural girls flag football games last Wednesday as the Bulldogs hosted Thurston and Sheldon in a night of games. Not even the quintessential Oregon spring downpour could dampen the spirits of the athletes, with Creswell going 2-0 and Thurston ending 1-1 in the opening competitions.

“It was awesome. I wasn’t expecting that, but it was awesome. It was awesome to see the girls come out and fly around and have fun and execute some plays,” said Creswell coach Scott Worsham. “That was a great start (to the season) for sure.”

While girls flag football isn’t an official Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) sport, it’s been gaining traction worldwide, and will be included in the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. In Oregon, it’s well on its way to being a sanctioned sport – though being classified as an “emerging activity” similar to boys volleyball is likely coming first.

In an OSAA Delegate Assembly meeting on Monday, April 8, representatives from Riverdale High School gave a presentation on the state of girls flag football. According to the presentation, eight schools competed in the pilot program in 2023, with a culminating event at Sherwood High School that Banks High School won.

The participation numbers are up massively this year, with 31 teams competing in eight “pods,” similar to leagues in other sports. Creswell and Thurston are two of those new programs joining, and the girls were eager to get on the field once the schools announced the news. 

“The excitement was real. We have girls that are track athletes, some that are softball players, and they’re giving up their free time to come out and do this,” said Thurston coach Justin Starck. “It’s been a great response so far, and we’re just super excited for the season. Really excited for our one home game as well.”

Creswell and Thurston are in a pod with Sheldon and South Eugene, and each team will host a set of games. Last week’s games were the first, and Creswell opened with a 35-2 win over Sheldon as the Bulldogs shut out the Sheldon offense. Creswell senior Dakota Carson, a three-sport varsity starter in soccer, basketball, and softball, had second-half touchdown runs of 48 and 10 yards to help lead the way.

“It was great. I feel like the team’s energy is really good. We all just want to be here and have fun,” Carson said. “Obviously we’re competitive and want to win, but I think the biggest thing for us is just having fun with this extra sport we get to do.”

The extra sport is a key point this season – the majority of players on these teams are participating in other spring sports, so practices and games must be scheduled around all of that to not take away athletes from official OSAA sports.

Leonard catches a pass during Creswell’s 6-0 win over Thurston. Leonard was one of the stars for the Bulldogs, who went 2-0 on the night against Thurston and Sheldon.

Thurston then faced off with Sheldon, winning 38-6 despite having only one practice this season before the game.

“The girls were so much fun to coach. Just super coachable, great attitudes,” Starck said. “They were just playing for the love of the game, and it was just a joy to watch them tonight.”

While most games will be 7-on-7 with 12-minute quarters, due to rain and the event running a little long, Thurston and Creswell played two 15-minute halves to finish the night. Creswell took the final game 6-0, with senior Tailey Carson, Dakota’s twin sister, grabbing the game-sealing interception with 1:50 left in the game.

“We got off to a great start here. I’m kind of hoping that as we progress, we start dialing in our plays a little bit more. Offensively we made a few mistakes, but that’s to be expected,” Worsham said. “I’m hoping that we can dial it in and add to the playbook. Just hoping that we can have a successful season and kind of grow this thing.”

Both Creswell and Thurston are led by their fall tackle football coaches in Worsham and Starck. Worsham also coaches the softball team, while Starck added flag football onto his spring schedule of teaching, running spring tackle football workouts, and being the Thurston athletic director.

“It was a statewide initiative, but as soon as we heard about it and saw it, we were like, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re in. We’re definitely in,’” Starck said. “I asked some guys who are my assistant coaches on the boys tackle football staff, and I just said, ‘Guys, you want to do this?’ And they said, ‘Absolutely. Let’s do it.’”

Starck added that he has lots of the girl athletes in class, and partly decided to coach flag football because, “I can’t coach soccer. I can’t coach volleyball. But this is something I know a little something about, and they’re passionate about it, so it was just a good fit.”

Thurston’s Macy Taylor (7) races down the sideline during a 50-yard touchdown run in Thurston’s 38-6 win over Sheldon last Wednesday. The Colts went 1-1 on the evening despite only having one practice before the event.

The statewide initiative is primarily being spearheaded by Nike itself. According to Starck and Creswell athletic director Brandon Standridge, Nike paid for all the program’s uniforms, footballs, and flags, meaning the only cost to the schools is paying officials. Nike funding the sport gives athletes like Carson a chance to play a sport they never would have otherwise been able to join.

“I always wanted to play football when I was younger, but there were not a lot of options for girls to play football. So I think when I heard about this, I definitely wanted to do it,” Carson said. “We were all asking each other, like, ‘Are you gonna play flag?’ And everyone’s like, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna do it.

“We have a lot of girls, obviously, that want to do it. Especially for a smaller school, because (Thurston and Sheldon) are both bigger schools. We have a lot of girls from the soccer team too; we all talked about it during soccer season.”

In addition to Nike sponsoring the teams, Riverdale athletic director Derek Duman said at the OSAA delegate assembly that there are tentative plans for the eight “pod” winners to compete in a championship at Nike HQ in Beaverton.



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