By Rubin E. Grant
Erin Oliver grew up going to UAB football games with her dad.
So, when the chance for her to play flag football for Spain Park this fall presented itself, Oliver, a senior, jumped at it.
The Alabama High School Athletic Association sanctioned flag football as one of its sports this year.
“I was really excited when it was sanctioned,” Oliver said. “I’m sad that it happened in my senior year and I’ll only get one year to play, but I am happy to be part of the pilot flag football season.”
Oliver and her teammates played their inaugural games Sept. 28 against Vestavia Hills and Oak Mountain on the Spain Park soccer field. The Jaguars lost to the Rebels 19-12 in their first game but bounced back to beat the Eagles 13-6.
The outcomes weren’t as important as the competition.
“It was really exhilarating to step on the field for a game,” said Oliver, who plays defense. “It was so cool and really amazing to be a part of it.”
Jags sophomore quarterback Emily Stricklin was equally thrilled about playing.
“It was fun and exciting for me to be out there,” Stricklin said. “When I found out we were going to have a team, I signed up right away. I’ve always wanted to play flag football. I grew up with a bunch of boys and I was always throwing the ball around with them.”
Stricklin threw a touchdown pass to Lillian Gourley and ran for another score in the loss to Vestavia Hills. She also ran for a touchdown and passed to Gourley for another touchdown in the victory against Oak Mountain.
“We tried to have fun with it,” Stricklin said. “I think I played pretty good. I was nervous the first game, but in the second game I had more confidence.”
The Eagles defeated the Rebels 12-0 in the other game, giving each team a win and a loss on the night.
“It was a great, great event, and we had a great turnout,” said Carmen Starr, who coaches the Jags along with her husband, Robert Starr. “I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when we got out there, but all three teams exceeded what I was expecting.
“It was great to have Vestavia and Oak Mountain out there with us. I knew it would be competitive and it was.”
Hoover, Homewood and John Carroll Catholic also are fielding teams and all played their first games Sept. 28. Hoover tied John Carroll 12-12 and beat Tuscaloosa County 19-6. John Carroll defeated Tuscaloosa County 33-12.
Homewood lost its first two games, falling 19-6 to Oxford and 23-0 to Hewitt-Trussville in a tri-match at Waldrop Stadium.
Spain Park took the field with 17 players on its roster, with girls ranging from the eighth through the 12th grades. In their initial meeting during the summer, approximately 60 girls showed up.
“A lot of them were multi-sport athletes and they were curious to see what it looked like,” Starr said. “It dwindled down by the time we had tryouts.
“It’s awesome that these girls have a chance to play flag football. I expect it to grow.”