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Booker T. Washington makes flag football history with postseason berth

Don’t take it lightly — girls flag football is rapidly gaining momentum and popularity in the Pensacola area.

It has been a sanctioned sport by the Florida High School Athletic Association since 2002, but still feels brand new around Pensacola, where the sport is still in its infancy as Booker T. Washington became the first are team to qualify for a district tournament this season.

The top four teams in each district qualify for the district tournament, with the champion advancing to the FHSAA playoffs. Washington (4-3) has the No. 4 seed in District 1-1A and faces No. 1 seed Choctaw on Monday at 8 p.m. in Choctaw.

The winner plays the Niceville-Crestview winner on Tuesday at 6 p.m. for the district championship.

“It’s been a very exciting season for these young ladies,” said Washington head coach Dredrick Bell, who is also the football team’s head coach. “Once they had the heart for the sport, they found the ins-and-outs of the game and took off from there. They play with a lot of passion and play especially well on defense. Our offense is run-heavy, which helps open up our passing game.”Washington sophomore Nyah Jesse transferred from Pensacola High after playing flag football last season for Pensacola’s independent team.

“I’ve really gotten to understand the sport of football,” said Jesse, who thrives at outside linebacker. “Playing has helped me understand a lot about football and opened my mind. I understand the sadness and defeat of football when you lose a gamut the bounce back and winning a game is so much stronger. It’s well-worth it and I appreciate it.”

Washington senior and basketball standout Lauren Walker is a great example. She didn’t play flag football last season, when Washington had an independent team, but felt the urge to continue competing after the close of her prep basketball career.

“It’s been a fun transition,” said Walker, who plays running back and wide receiver on offense and middle linebacker on defense. “There’s actually more contact in basketball, but it’s really fun to come outdoors and play flag football after being indoors all winter for basketball.

“I think it is cool that we are starting something new. Our goal has been to get far this season. We are going to make history with this, believe it or not.”

Sports just aren’t the same without healthy rivalries and it’s clear there will no exceptions made for classic, area rivalries in flag football — for Washington, that means Pensacola and Pine Forest.

Pine Forest (4-3) proved to be Washington’s toughest test in the area this year, as the teams locked up for a defensive struggle before Washington won, 6-0.

That game was ultimately the difference maker for the final spot in the district tournament, as the teams finished with identical records but Washington’s head-to-head win broke the tiebreaker.

Pine Forest head coach Lee Burt expects his team to come back stronger and ready to compete next spring.

“Our team has gotten head-over-heels better than last year and I think we will only move forward from now.” Burt said. “We had a lot of girls come out that were hesitant at first but ended up being some really good players. Once they understand the game, the sky is the limit for them.”

Burt is in his fifth year at Pine Forest and is defensive coordinator for the football team.

He realizes that while flag football is certainly beneficial for the players, he has gained from coaching it.

“I had to get my feet wet a little bit,” Burt said. “I played flag football in intramurals in college. But coaching-wise, it’s a different ballgame. I would definitely encourage any school that’s interested to pick up flag football.

“The competition is just like girls basketball and track … this county always competes hard in those sports and flag football is the same way.”

Northview played independent this year and will join District 1-1A next season. Burt added that several Escambia County schools are in discussion of adding flag football programs in the near future.

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