Flag football helping female student-athletes grow on & off the field

Players from Middleburg High School participated in the Jaguars Flag Football Jamboree

MIDDLEBURG, Fla. – The Jaguars and some of their players spend time helping mentor and develop future football players -- and they’re not always boys.

Hundreds of student-athletes participated in the Jaguars Flag Football Jamboree earlier this spring. Among those who participated: players from Middleburg High School. And as the players will tell you, they’re better than the boys.

“We’re much better than the boys,” Cheyenne Jenkins said.

These girls are breaking barriers.

“I think the stigma was there at the beginning,” Brooke Swenson said. “No, boys are the only ones that can play this sport.”

Jenkins, Swenson and Laura Palagyi say Middleburg High flag football coach Jay Stilianou and the game has taught them to be mentally and physically tough.

“Personally, I’ve learned a lot on this field. I’ve grown a lot on this field,” Palagyi said. “And I am just thankful for coaches who have taught us a lot of lessons.”

They’re lessons that not only help in flag football -- but also in life.

“And some of them I will never forget,” Palagyi said. “And some I repeat every day.”

They credit a lot of those life lessons to their coach.

“He is definitely a life lesson. One thing about Stiliano, he’s a life lesson guy,” Jenkins said. “He will tell it how it is, and he will keep it just like that.”

Stiliano will tell you that’s because he had to learn some lessons when he was younger.

“I had two girls of my own, and I remember, I started a little younger, I made life really hard. To be honest, I had my oldest daughter when I was a senior in high school if you want me to be honest with you,” he said.

But having two daughters has taught him that they can be just as tough as the boys -- if not tougher.

“Matter of fact, to be honest with you, when my daughters were growing up, I would pick on them if they lost to boys,” Stiliano said. “You know what I mean? I’m just being honest. They weren’t allowed.”

And he’s teaching his players that football is football.

“The best team wins,” he said. “I don’t teach them any differently. The way we teach DBs and the way we teach secondary and the way we teach mesh is the same exact thing.”

These female athletes have taken what they’ve learned and are putting it into practice on the field.

They have this message for girls looking to get into this sport.

“If you do get into this sport, we all do have bad days,” Palagyi said. “But never give up -- never. You stay strong, you learn from everything and do your best.”

About the Author:

Joy Purdy co-anchors the 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. newscasts with Tarik Minor and the 11 p.m. weeknight newscasts with Kent Justice.