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The Journal magazines are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Jun 08, 2021

Holmdel High School Pioneers Girls’ Flag Football Movement

By Tim Morris

Holmdel High School’s female athletes are getting to experience something their coach, Melissa Menges, never did: playing flag football.

The Hornets are making history this spring as part of a pilot program that is introducing girls’ flag football to the Shore Conference. Holmdel is one of eight schools in the conference taking part in the program. The others are Middletown North, Middletown South, a combined Middletown team, Shore, Matawan, Pinelands and Mater Dei Prep. The New York Giants and Nike are sponsoring the teams. There will be a seven-week season with pod championship games slated for Monday, June 14. There is a possibility that those games will be played at MetLife Stadium.

Menges, who comes from a football family, is making up for the opportunity she didn’t have in high school by coaching the Hornet girls with Scott Cannon. She jumped at the chance to coach the team when the program was announced.“When I heard about the program, it sparked my interest,” said Menges, who is also the varsity cheerleading coach. “I’ve always been a big football fan, but I never had the chance to play or coach it.”

Menges’ father Lou Menges played high school football at Keyport and coached her older brother, Matt, in youth football. She grew up watching her father coach and brother play, wishing she could be involved in the sport. Now, she is coaching Holmdel’s flag football team along with Cannon, who played college football at Murray State.

“I am enjoying being on the sidelines and coaching the team with Scott Cannon,” said Menges. Just as Menges jumped at the opportunity to participate in a ground-breaking sport as a coach, so have the Hornet girls as participants.

Lindsay Cannon –who played soccer, basketball, lacrosse at Holmdel and added volleyball this year when the NJSIAA allowed for the fourth season –is one of those driven to be a part of history. Like her coach, she came from a football family; her father is coach Scott Cannon and always liked the sport.

“It was something new. I had never played it before,” said Cannon. “I saw it as a new opportunity and wanted to give it a try. It’s very exciting. I wish I had gotten to play it sooner. We all just love playing it and learning it. Honestly, it’s the most thrilling experience I’ve ever had. There’s no other feeling like it being in the end zone getting chest pumps from your teammates.”

One of those teammates is her sister, freshman Allison Cannon, who plays quarterback. They started practicing together as soon as they learned about the pilot program.

“She’s the best,” said Lindsay of her younger sister, who also played soccer, basketball and lacrosse.

Cannon said she and her teammates looked at themselves as pioneers blazing a trail that others will follow, opening new athletic doors for the girls.

The Hornets may be novices to the sport, but they’ve caught on fast, winning their first two games, 32-12 over Middletown South and 30-14 against Middletown North.

“They’ve been good exciting games,” said Menges. “Our defense really stepped up. Our offense has looked good running the ball with a little passing.”

Since flag football is a club sport, the team has been able to draw from other spring sport athletes such as the Cannons, who play lacrosse.

“We’ve gotten multi-sport athletes,” said Menges. “Competition is in their blood. They’re very serious.”

The Hornets practice twice a week and play their games and practices at 6:30 pm, which allows the multi-sport athletes time to compete in their spring sport.

Menges said that she and Cannon “started off with the basics, throwing and catching the ball and letting the girls experience all the different positions.”

Flag football is 7-on-7 and played on half the football field.

Both coach and player see flag football as here to stay. “Interest is already picking up,” said Menges.

Cannon sees the potential of flag football becoming the girls’ answer to the boys’ football.

“This is the start of something that could be huge,” remarked Cannon. “I really think this is going to pick up and become a varsity sport.”

If and when it does, this year’s pioneers created new opportunities for future high school girls and maybe even college women to compete in another sport.

The 2021 pioneering Hornets are: Kayla Bielan, Grace Koenig, Allison Cannon, Taylor Thomas, Taylor Bielan, Lindsay Cannon, Julianna Aiello, Sarah Friedman, Sophia Fanzini, Angelina Nadi, Kayla Nastasi, Katrina Walier, Alex Bauman, Fiona Ceka, Tianna Mickens, Lainie Doran, Adrianna Morales, Julia Saporito, Elisa Gunawardana, Emma Lionette, Ava Ruabno and Kate Koval.