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Jun 09, 2022

Middletown High School Girls Return for Second Season of Flag Football

By Tim Morris

For Steve Antonucci and his coaching peers, football is football. That’s why Antonucci, the head coach at Middletown High School South, and Middletown North’s Steve Bush are among the Shore area high school football coaches training girls’ flag football players at their respective schools.

“It’s what we do, what we love,” said the Eagles’ head coach who, just last fall, secured his 200th career football win at South.

Bush pointed out that flag football was a “great way to promote the sport” and help more people understand it.

Antonucci helped introduce flag football to the Shore last spring with financial help from the New York Giants. He noted that as a physical education teacher at Middletown South, he was aware that girls had talked about it and expressed interest in playing football.

“I heard they wanted to play football, and I thought to myself, ‘Why can’t they play?’” said Antonucci. “[Flag football] was sanctioned in Florida and Georgia so why not New Jersey? We’re providing a positive experience for the sport they like.”

And the girls have stepped up in numbers to prove the interest is there. The league, which started out with Holmdel, Shore Regional, Middletown North and South, Pinelands, Jackson Liberty, Matawan and Mater Dei Prep in its inaugural season in 2021 expanded this year to include Raritan, Trinity Hall and Henry Hudson.

“There are a lot more girls interested in playing this year,” said Bush. “We’re playing JV games which is important.”

Antonucci has experienced the same increases at South. “They’ve been extremely receptive,” he said.

The Eagles are playing JV games as well. Antonucci’s goal is for flag football to become the girls’ No. 1 sport and for the program to field teams at all three levels: freshman, JV and varsity. Right now, flag football is a club sport with some of the players participating in other varsity sports such as track and field. Antonucci and Bush agree that they can see flag football eventually becoming a varsity sport. There’s that much interest. As for coaching the new sport?

“It has been exciting,” said Antonucci. “There are some tremendous female athletes in the Shore Conference. The interesting part about it is that I can coach the girls as tough as the boys. They want to win.”

Bush said the idea was to have fun with it and that both he and the Lions are doing just that.

Antonucci added that the girls are experiencing the competitiveness of the sport, building the relationships and camaraderie football provides along with experiencing the thrill of scoring a touchdown or making a big play – things that are unique to football.

In the second season of play, the quality of the game has improved dramatically.

“You can see it in the retuning teams. They’ve picked up the nuances of the sport,” Antonucci remarked. 

Bush has been impressed with how quickly the Lions have picked things up.

Both coaches dug into their football playbooks for flag football.

“We use the same concepts we throw during the [football] season,” they agreed. 

While flag football is still a club sport, Antonucci and Bush are putting in the same effort they that put in for football. Win or lose they’re also thinking of what they need to do to make their team better.

The future of flag football might be right in front of us. Antonucci pointed out that colleges are beginning to offer flag football programs complete with scholarships. Soon, girls will have the opportunity to earn their own football scholarships.