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Student-Run Flag Football Soars in East Bay

Photograph by Nigel Oliphant

Student run organizations have always been a significant part of the culture at Berkeley High School (BHS). From service clubs to music groups, BHS students are not afraid to take initiative in organizing their community. Most recently, this initiative can be seen in a recreational flag football league organized by BHS seniors Noah Winkelman and Daniel Martinez-Krams (disclaimer: Martinez-Krams is a section editor for The Jacket). The league consists of games between student-organized flag football teams. Each team will get to play nine games and is provided with equipment and refereeing for the games.

“Daniel and I came up with the idea just hanging out one summer day,” said Winkelman, “and we posted in our various social media sites asking if anyone wanted to play flag football …We had a flag football league in middle school but once you get to high school there isn’t a league that’s very accessible, so we decided to start one,” said Winkelman.

Teams from four different schools participate, including Saint Mary’s, Albany High School, Alameda High School, as well as BHS.

Jake Thorne, player and organizer of the Alameda team. “This is a really special group of dudes,” he said. “We’ve all known each other for a very long time… [playing together] is making us a lot closer.”

He recalls playing flag football with Winkelman at camp. “That was one of my favorite experiences.” Then, when Winkelman contacted him, Thorne was eager to help organize a team to participate.

BHS has three flag football teams, all of which participate in the same league. Nearly all of the players in the league play other sports. From baseball to soccer to ultimate frisbee, the league represents an accessible opportunity for athletes to participate in another sport separate from high stakes competition of other teams.

“We’re not big enough to play regular football and we don’t want to get injured playing regular football so it’s kind of a nice alternative,” said Thorne.

Winkelman said that the student-run aspect of the program allowed students to feel empowered and independent. “Everyone is very involved and very engaged because they know that this is something that we’ve created.”

Thorne seconded this sentiment, saying “It just shows that kids can create just as much as adults can. It’s a really cool thing that Noah and Daniel made for the community.”

Winkelman said that one difficulty in organizing the league was the cost associated of renting fields, getting equipment, and paying referees (all of whom are tackle football players at BHS). The league fundraised and eventually succeeded in lowering the cost of participation to only $15 per player.

Upon registration, players are required to sign an inclusivity policy. Winkelman said that many people, especially girls, feel not included in football. “We just wanted to reach out to as many people as possible to tell them, ‘Come out and play. This is an inclusive sport,’” he said.

The league has a specifically recreational focus. Kids come to enjoy themselves and that seems to be what is happening. Thorne said, “We want to win. But having fun is the number one priority.”

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