NIRSA Championship Series flag football ended another fantastic season with the 2015 national tournament, which was held January 2–4 at the University of West Florida. While a cold front over Pensacola led to overcast skies and a brisk wind blowing through Ashton Brosnaham Park, the action stayed hot as 64 teams—24 Men’s, 13 Co-Rec, 11 Women’s, and 16 Open Division—battled to be crowned national champions!
Teams came together from across the country
Pensacola became the site for high energy starting New Year’s Day as teams from 19 states arrived and prepared to take on all competitors. Teams began putting their strategies into motion during pre-tournament practice, looking for the key that would get them to their respective championships. Zachary Churchwell’s team, the Angelo State IM Legends, kept it simple: “No silly mistakes or penalties, keep your head, pull flags, and do your job!”
What shines at NIRSA Championship Series tournaments is the positive spirit that allows teams to play at highly-competitive levels while maintaining poise and sportsmanship no matter what the results may be. Competitiveness can be motivational, but for NIRSA Championship Series flag football teams, the game is often about more than just that. For many of our participants, it’s not just about Xs and Os, wins and losses. It’s about comradery, experience, and being in the moment with your friends and teammates.
Bianca Lagos of the University of Central Florida’s Check On It team put perspective on the weekend by saying, “The most enjoyable part about playing with my team is how much of a family we have become. I know I can count on these ladies on and off the field.” Tatianne DeAraujo—also from UCF Check On It—agreed, adding, “It’s great to be able to play a sport that you love, but to be able to play it with the people you love just makes it that much sweeter.”
Saturday and Sunday saw the start of pool play as well as some strong bracket play—all teams knew the importance of wins and point differentials for bracket placement. During playoffs, teams continued to discuss strategy and make adjustments. Calculated risks, adjustments at halftime, athletic plays, and sometimes just plain luck all factored into advancing further and further into the bracket.
Once more, the tandem team of NIRSA Championship Series staff members David Peters of Florida State University and Marty Dempsey from the University of Florida offered insight into the games with their commentary during live webcasts. These webcasts allowed friends, family, peers, and supporters back home to watch and root for their teams. The @NIRSAChamp Twitter and Instagram accounts and the #NIRSAFlag hashtag also kept discussion alive across various social media networks. Updates, information, and pictures were sent out to all participants following the event.
The best teams in the nation worked their way through the brackets—and on Sunday the victors emerged with their NIRSA Flag Football Championship Series crowns! The University of Central Florida won the Women’s Division yet again while Valdosta State University also repeated as Men’s champion. The Co-Rec Division did see a new champion this year, though, with Angelo State University. Full results, All-Tournament teams, All-American officials, photos, and archived webcasts of the championship games can be found online.
Tournament staff were crucial to making the games happen
Beyond talented flag football teams, it also takes the dedication and industry of the volunteer staff and officials who work tirelessly behind the scenes to create a successful tournament. Led by Tournament Directors Brian Mills from the University of Houston—who is also Chair of the NIRSA Championship Series Flag Football Work Team—and Jessica Coleman from the University of West Florida, the 2015-2016 NIRSA Flag Football Championship Series staff was comprised of 63 collegiate recreation professionals and 59 student officials. All of these individuals gladly provided the student participants with valuable opportunities to engage in positive play, teamwork, leadership, and sportsmanship. Jessica says, “The amount of people who were willing to volunteer for the tournament is astonishing. It just proves how willing we are as an organization to work together for the betterment of our profession.”
The 59 student officials who convened in Pensacola refereed some of the best games in the nation and further sharpened their officiating skills. Officiating clinicians volunteered their expertise in order to ensure high-quality instruction for this group of students. The goal was for student officials to not only improve at the tournament, but for them to take their newfound knowledge back to their institutions and thus improve the officiating at each institution.
Official Doug Ream from the University of Kentucky notes, “The attention to detail in regards to training and evaluation by the tournament staff is a step above excellence. I hadn’t learned that much about the game or my officiating since my first year.” Elvis Lizardo from the University of Vermont says, “Before this weekend, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue officiating at a higher level. But after the weekend was over, I realized that this truly is a passion of mine and I can’t even start picturing a future in which I don’t officiate. The encouraging words from the professionals on staff really made me feel included in the NIRSA community.”
Both Brian and Jessica were deeply impressed with the effort each staff member brought forth into the weekend, and are quite aware of the value this Championship Series event has for its volunteers and participants. Brian says, “I have always felt that these tournaments taught me so many different aspects of professionalism, communication, game management, awareness, self-confidence…that I can’t put into words the value of this tournament or this series.” Jessica also comments: “[The Series] creates a fun atmosphere for students to grow closer together, reduce stress, and create memories that will last a lifetime.”
Thanks to everyone who made the tournament possible!
We would like to take a moment to recognize the following NIRSA members who took advantage of Flag Football Institutional Registration:
- The University of Texas at Austin
- University of Florida
- University of Southern Mississippi
- Georgia Southern University
- Louisiana State University.
And, finally, a big thank you to the University of West Florida Recreation & Sports Services staff for providing outstanding service and hosting during the event. Teams, officials, and staff members will be marking their calendars in anticipation of the next season of NIRSA Championship Series flag football!