No more tackle powder-puff football
What boosters describe as the nation's last tackle powder-puff football game is no more.
The game was played for 50 years. It was a spirited competition between seniors and juniors. But now, Jupiter High's principal has canceled the yearly event. He said he doesn't believe helmets and shoulder pads borrowed from boys' teams adequately protect the girls. They can get crunched in the game.
The cancellation blindsided Jupiter. It is a middle-class suburb on Florida's Palm Beach coast. The game fills the stands. That is something the Jupiter boys' team rarely does. The game raised $7,000 last year, parents say. For the game, boys dress like female cheerleaders in tight shorts, crop tops and wigs. The girls get to compete before a crowd instead of playing softball or soccer in front of a few dozen parents and friends.
"The game makes our town special," said Haley Osborne. She is a 17-year-old senior. She is disappointed that she's missing her final chance.
"It is almost like a Friday night in Texas. Everyone comes out to watch the game. That is why you see the uproar. That's what this game means to this town," said Marcy Murphy. She is a special needs job coach. Her son, Brandon, plays running back on the boys' team. He helped coach the girls last year.
Principal Dan Frank has led the 2,800-student school for three years. His decision is firm. This year's game is off. A girl broke her leg a few years ago. Each year players get bruises and sprains. And there is always a chance of more serious injuries.
"Student safety is my first priority," Frank said in a statement. "The narrow window of time for student preparation and practice, and the limited availability of properly fitting safety equipment would put our students at risk." An attempt to enlist the town of Jupiter as the game's sponsor failed. Town Manager Andrew Lukasik rejected the idea. He also cited safety concerns.
Some girls and their parents said Frank told them tackle powder-puff might be brought back under certain conditions. Instead of two weeks practice, there could be two months. That would allow the girls to be better trained. Instead of using pads and helmets from the boys' team and a local youth league, football uniforms designed for girls could be purchased. In addition, specific insurance could be bought for the game.
Frank would only confirm that he has asked the district to help determine whether the game could be resumed at some point.
As for this year, Frank suggested the girls adopt flag football. But the girls wouldn't consider it.
Many American high schools host flag powder-puff. It is a no-contact version. The girls stop their opponents by pulling flags off their belts, rather than wrestling them to the ground. But Florida schools already offer girls' flag football as an interscholastic sport.
Osborne and her friends, Caitlin Walsh, Megan Mendoza and Sophie Garcia, said their principal also made another suggestion that they didn't like. His suggestion was that they play a modified kickball game. A runner could bob for apples at second base, or spin around at third.
"We are not in elementary school," Mendoza said.
Frank acknowledges suggesting several alternative events. He did not offer any specifics.
The members of the Class of 2016 were filled with glee recalling last year's 50th anniversary game. Their class lost 17-12 to the Class of 2015.
Donning pads. Strapping on helmets. Hearing the crowd as they sprinted into the stadium. The hits. The fumbles and bumbles.
"Remember there were three of us saying 'Let's all just get on Amanda.' But no one could take her down," one girl says. Another chimes in, "One girl got hit so hard her helmet flew off." A third adds, "It is sooo fun."
For these young women and their moms, the risk of injury is overblown.
"The car ride to the game is more dangerous," said Lori Walsh. She is Caitlin's mother.
Girls get hurt cheerleading and playing soccer and basketball. They asked, why not ban those sports, too?
They also note that Florida allows girls to play on boys' high school football teams. Several female kickers have played, as well as a girl who substituted at quarterback in the neighboring county.
"That's much riskier," Marcy Murphy said.
For now, at least, the game is over.