Heritage High School’s girls flag football team finished the inaugural season undefeated (5-0) when they beat the Salem High Seminoles Monday, Nov. 4 at Evans Memorial Stadium to win the Conyers Cup Championship. The team goes on to play in the state championship game on Dec. 18 at Mercedes Benz Stadium. COURTESY OF ROCKDALE COUNTY SCHOOLS

Flag football season called great kickoff for new high school sport

The inauguration of girls flag football in Rockdale County ended in an undefeated season for the Heritage High Patriots. With a 33-0 win over Salem High Seminoles Monday night, they captured the first-ever Conyers Cup.

The three high schools had a six-week season where a combination of sports veterans and those new to athletic competition learned the ins and outs of a new sport for the district.

“The experience was beyond my wildest imagination,” said Kechia Seabrooks Rowles, director of athletics for Rockdale County Public Schools. “The entire season we had such positive feedback from parents with call and emails and students, principals and teachers coming out to the games.”

The boys football teams came early to watch the girls play before their games and even the middle schools had great turnouts, added Rowles.

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“The entire community embraced the girls. They were part of climate and culture at homecoming and they stood with other student athletes who play softball, volleyball, basketball, boys football — everyone embraced the new sport.”

Anyone who passed Christopher Roland Tuesday may have wondered why he couldn’t stop smiling. His daughter, Nikki Roland, was part of the winning team.

“She made two touchdowns,” he said. “And she had four the entire season.”

Roland said he never dreamed he’d see his daughter playing football in an NFL stadium. The state championship game will be at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 18.

“We will definitely be at the game,” he said.

And although there are no college football leagues for girls flag football, the camaraderie, focus on detail and desire to get up and move are all lessons that will benefit the young ladies on whatever path they chose.

One of the goals across the state is to increase the level of physical activity for girls. The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation is a major sponsor, and the organization wanted to help turn around the statistics that show how girls begin to lead sedentary lives as early as middle school and set themselves up for health problems as they age.

“I was pleased to see many new faces on the teams,” said Rowles. “With this being a new sport nobody had an advantage over anyone else. They all learned together and I saw that passion and determination every time from just about every player.”

The Blank Foundation along with the Atlanta Falcons has pledged to fund the first year of girls flag football for every school district in the state. Along with Cherokee, Forsyth, Henry and Musckogee counties, the Rockdale County Schools received a grant of $49,000 for uniforms, transportation, coaching supplements and operations costs.

There may be some grants after that, but in general, the school administrators will have to find a way to pay for it in subsequent years.

“We’re looking to make that happen here in Rockdale County,” said Rowles. “The benefits are so great that we wouldn’t want to stop doing something that works.”

Even though the Patriots are the only Rockdale team to play in the championship game, all the girls flag football teams in the state are invited to a Women’s Empowerment Summit before the tournament.

“It’s a good day for women’s athletics,” said Rowles. “I hope this partnership is just the beginning.”

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