The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “excite” as “to raise to a higher energy level,” and “to energize toward a strong emotional response.” For the 2017 NIRSA Flag Football National Championships, that definition was certainly met and exceeded! The only aspect that outpaced the action and enthusiasm of the participants and volunteers was the fun they encountered during the tournament, once again hosted by the University of West Florida.
The weather was comparatively better than the previous year at Ashton Brosnaham Park in Pensacola, FL, with sunshine for the majority of the tournament and temperatures hovering near fifty degrees. This backdrop welcomed a total of 761 participants and created an ideal atmosphere for 68 teams—15 Co-Rec, 24 Men’s, 14 Women’s, and 15 Open Non-Collegiate—to battle it out for the ultimate prize: claim to a NIRSA Flag Football Champion crown.
This year, 16 states and Mexico were represented at the national championship. Teams began checking in at Brosnaham Park as early as Thursday morning, the day before the tournament. As one scanned the fields during this time, teams could be seen taking repetitions and perfecting their plays in order to gain an upper hand going into the first set of games on Friday. As the sun set, team representatives gathered at the main pavilion to get last-minute information and potentially a last look at their competition before becoming opponents.
Friday and Saturday pool play saw lots of great offense and defense as teams jockeyed for wins, with bracket play coming later Saturday. During bracket play, the remaining teams battled to survive and advance into the championship picture on Sunday. A mix of familiar faces and new blood emerged as the ultimate victors of the tournament. Angelo State University emerged as repeating champions of the Co-Rec Division. The Women’s Division saw the University of Florida become winners, the first new champion in five years. The Men’s Division had an all-Texas final, with the University of Texas-San Antonio coming out on top. For full results, including All-Tournament teams, All-American officials, photos, and archived webcasts of the championship games, check out the NIRSA Play blog.
The @NIRSAChamp Twitter and Instagram accounts were abuzz with updates, videos, and pictures from the tournament. Hundreds of tweets and clips told a story of amazing catches, defensive prowess, and energetic play. New to the tournament was the NIRSAChamp SnapChat account along with a geofilter for the event. The geofilter was a huge success, garnering over 46,000 views by friends and family interested in the tournament. The championship games were webcast live—with commentary by NIRSA Championship staff members Dave Peters of Florida State University and Marty Dempsey from the University of Florida—allowing supporters to watch the exciting championship games from far and away.
The NIRSA Flag Football National Championship had great competitors, each excited about the opportunity to compete and show their abilities. Both Brittany Stevenson and Sarah Pannkuk of the Texas State women’s team got to the point right away with their strategy. “Our game plan is to pull flags and make touchdowns,” Brittany said. “We just need to focus on every play,” Sarah added.
Brook McCluskey, representing the University of Nebraska-Lincoln co-rec team, said, “We drove 17.5, 18 hours to get here, so our main game plan is to come here and have fun. We have a couple of plays we want to throw out there, but the main goal is to have fun.” Strategy is always a key component to winning a hard-fought game, and Jonathan Taylor from UT-San Antonio said, “Our game plan for winning our first game was to stay warm and just do what we came here to do.”
For a lot of participants, the opportunity to interact with other schools and compete was the highlight of their tournament. Robell Tocruray from Men’s Division Runner-Up Texas Southern University said, “The best part of the tournament was our pregame warm-ups. We were one of the few teams that had our own speaker to play music. Before each game, we would warm up and turn up to our favorite songs, getting us amped for the game. Our music even had the spectators, officials, and tournament staff tuned in. In a few of our games, we even interacted with our opponents before the game because they enjoyed our music. We may not have won the tournament, but everyone that was there is going to remember The TakeOver from Texas Southern and the different energy we brought to the tournament.”
Hats off to volunteers
Putting together such a tournament is no easy task. It takes a phenomenal staff of volunteers to make the national championships an unprecedented success. This year, 58 volunteers from numerous institutions worked behind the scenes to seamlessly execute another fantastic championship weekend. The tournament was co-directed by Jeffrey Schmitt from the University of West Florida, and Flag Football Work Team Chair Mark Comer from the University of Baltimore. Mark was extremely impressed with the amount of effort every volunteer and participant put into the tournament.
Mark stated, “Forty-nine student officials and forty staff came from across the country, all with a common goal: to develop. It was an amazing thing to watch! Selfless staff working hard to improve the officials and participants experience and eager officials soaking in as much knowledge as possible. The tournament saw several last second touchdowns and even an overtime championship game. NIRSA continues to break barriers and flag football is doing everything we can to help lead the charge. It’s been an honor to be the co-director of the tournament for the last two years. The NIRSA Championship Series and flag football continue to improve and the youth that are getting involved show that we are in great hands.”
An important aspect of the tournament has been the student officials who dedicate their time to the event. Forty-nine student officials from all over the nation descended upon Pensacola to gain more knowledge about the craft of officiating. This year, Kyle Armstrong and former NFL official Mark Baltz from Zooom App assisted with training, utilizing training videos and clips to bring technology into the fold. Kyle and Mark also announced that Zooom App would join in the Student Officials Development campaign with the NIRSA Foundation, pledging to match up to $2,000 in donations over the next few months.
The officials themselves were certainly thankful and impressed with the opportunities presented. Official Julie Johnson from the University of Maryland said, “This was my third year at the national tournament and each year it gets more fun than the last. I always look forward to seeing people at these tournaments who I would never see otherwise. There is nothing like the experience of working with the best student officials in the nation to officiate the best teams in the nation. My goals for this tournament were to have fun and learn something, and I succeeded in both thanks to the wonderful evaluators and the staff at the University of West Florida and of course, the other officials that I had the privilege of working with.”
Official Aneury Pichardo from the University of Akron added, “I thought the National Flag Football Tournament was a great opportunity to keep learning and developing as an official. It was great to hear about how to be a better official from some of the best clinicians in the nation. I also thought it was a great family environment with everyone supporting each other from officials to clinicians to tournament staff.” Official Stephanie Calhoun from Indiana University said, “I had a really great time. I was nervous going into it about the level of play and about myself. I felt like I did great, met a lot of cool people, and saw a lot of plays I have never seen before. I thought overall it was a very positive experience.”
The clinicians for the officiating staff were also very impressed with the student officials, especially since a vast majority of them were new to the national tournament. Assistant Director of Officials, Jason Gant from Farmingdale State University, stated, “I was very impressed at the high quality and talent of our officials, despite their relative inexperience. Of the 49 officials, 40 of them were new to the national tournament. This typically leads to some unevenness, but our group as a whole were rock solid from start to finish. I was also thrilled with the officials’ focus on learning. Often, you encounter officials who are only concerned with being honored and not concerned with becoming a better official. All of the officials, from the rookie to the second-year GA, seemed genuine in their desire to get better.” Director of Officials Kurt Klier from the University of Maryland added, “I was impressed! They did amazingly well! We were able to schedule crews based on their regional involvement and that helped create a sense of comfort and trust in the crews since they had worked together before. The officials came with the eagerness to learn and to get better. That is always refreshing. We saw young officials excited about officiating and dedicated to improving.”
The importance of volunteering and its impact was not lost on the committee. “Being able to work on the Official’s Committee at the NIRSA National Flag Football Tournament impacts me beyond the four days we are together in Pensacola,” began Kelsey Jones, officials’ committee clinician from Louisiana State University. “Working on this committee gives me the opportunity to work with others in a capacity that I am not normally able to. We travel from all over the nation to come together to teach, evaluate, and discuss flag football for four days straight. It allows me to come back and prepare my student officials on campus for the upcoming sports and tournament.”
Thanks to supportive institutions
This tournament could not have happened without the contributions of NIRSA members who took advantage of Institutional Registrations. We would like to thank the following institutions:
University of Southern Mississippi
Georgia Southern University
University of Maryland-College Park
Louisiana State University
The University of West Florida Recreation & Sports Services staff once again showed their stellar service and exemplary hosting during the event, and we thank them for their efforts. Flag football will take a pause for now, but we cannot wait for the NIRSA Flag Football Championship Series to bring the action next season.
- For more information, please contact NIRSA National Sport Programs Coordinator Nicole Jackson.