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ASHLAND — When Greg Holt, a senior project manager at Raindrop Products, told a friend their daughters should play flag football, he didn’t know he’d be coaching the YMCA’s first all girls’ flag football team this fall. 

He had two older sons who played flag football through the Y and has coached there for 10 years. The teams have always been co-ed and open to girls, said Christian Langston, the sports and fitness director at the Y. 

This year, 28 teams and over 300 children are playing flag football, according to Langston. They range from age three to the sixth grade. Still, Holt said not many girls usually play. 

But his daughter, Alexa, a 9-year-old, is athletic and quick. He thought she’d make a good flag football player, and so would some of the other girls on her soccer team.

They had two girls signed up at first, and it quickly snowballed. Soon it was four, and then five, and the next thing Holt knew, he was fielding a full team of nine girls. 

“From a coach’s point of view, they listen,” Holt said. “They actually process what you’re telling them and retain knowledge. They’re a pleasure to coach.” 

So far, the girls’ record is 1-3. Still, according to Holt, they’re hanging in there with the boys’ teams. Their last game was Sept. 16, and the girls played what Holt called one of the best teams in the league. 

The girls’ team got its first interception during the game, and scored a couple of touchdowns. Even though they lost in the end, Holt and his fellow coach, Aaron Reynolds, told them they should be proud of themselves. 

“I’m so proud of how they fight every game,” Reynolds said. 

‘Game of the week’

Langston, the Y’s sports and fitness director, said when the girls play, there’s always noise on the field. They have a good fan base, he said. And other coaches realize playing them is the “game of the week.” 

Jodi Holt, Greg’s wife and Alexa’s mom, said the YMCA typically doesn’t let any team be the Cleveland Browns. But this year, the girls have that honor. Jodi said the girls’ older brothers have been really supportive of them, running a Cleveland Browns flag around the field when the girls score or make a good play. 

Danielle Reynolds, another mom, said she’s “stoked” the girls get to be the Cleveland Browns. She said she’s a Browns fan, and so are most of the other parents on the team. 

One mom, Tristan Carpenter, made matching bows for the girls to wear when they play. 

“It gives them a little extra sparkle,” she said. 

Reynolds added that some people stay to watch the girls’ games even when their children aren’t playing them. 

And, she said, the boys have been good about playing the girls. Reynolds said many of them are classmates, and on Sept. 16, one of their teachers came to watch the game. 

Meet the team

The nine girls Greg Holt and Aaron Reynolds have on their team are second and third graders and multi-sport athletes. Many played on the same softball team in the spring, but some of the girls also swim, dance, do gymnastics, and play basketball or soccer. 

Ava Emmons, a 9-year-old on the Y’s Cleveland Browns team, said flag football is her favorite of the three sports she plays. She also plays soccer and basketball. Emmons made the interception in the Sept. 16 game. 

For Emmons, the best part of playing flag football is beating the boys. 

“It’s like winning the super bowl,” Emmons said. 

Peyton Reynolds, one of Emmons’ teammates, said she’s made four touchdowns over the course of the season. The 8-year-old also plays soccer and softball, and said this football season, she’s having fun and playing hard. 

Peyton and Alexa Holt both have their dads on the team as coaches, too. Alexa said she likes having her dad as a coach, but that he’s tough on her sometimes. 

Still, Alexa thinks she gets the ball a lot. Like Peyton, her favorite part of the game is scoring. She plans to play football again next year. 

Some of the girls have even taken away football skills they’ll apply in their other sports. Aubrey Ellenwood, an 8-year-old on the team, said she learned to “juke people” this season. She plans to use those tricks when she plays soccer, too. 

What does it mean?

For the girls and their coaches, the football season has been about playing hard. But Langston said the team has more meaning than just that. 

“They’re changing the narrative that only boys can play football,” Langston said. 

He added he hopes the all girls’ team will inspire more girls — and other all girls’ teams — to play at the YMCA in the future. 

Greg Holt didn’t start off the season with the intention to have an all girls’ team, but now that that’s the case, he said he thinks it’s been empowering for the girls to know they can keep up with the boys’ teams. 

And for some of the girls, like 9-year-old Lena Reep, the season has come with a lesson to never quit. 

“I’ve learned not to be scared when you’re up against all boys, because you have your friends with you,” Reep said. 

Ashland Source's Report for America corps member. She covers education and workforce development, among other things, for Ashland Source. Thomas comes to Ashland Source from Montana, where she graduated...