Credit: Javier Gonzalez/GPB Sports
Football Fridays In Georgia: Georgia's Fastest Growing High School Sport Takes Another Big Leap
This month's Football Fridays in Georgia podcast is all about the hottest high school sport in the state - Flag Football. Hannah and Jon talk with one of the people most instrumental in the sports' inception and continued growth as well as the head coach of Portal High school, one of the state's smallest schools with one of its most successful flag football programs.
Jon Nelson: Welcome to another round of the Football Fridays In Georgia podcast here at Georgia Public Broadcasting. Thanks for accessing us. However, you are doing so in video form, in audio form, large device or small could be the big six-inch HDMI cable that you plug into the side of the TV. So, you can see Hannah and me talking about everything going on here in the state of Georgia involving high school football. And in this one we're talking high school football, but there's a word in front of the word football that we're putting in this particular time.
Hannah Goodin: My favorite word, girls. We are taking a deep dive today into the newest GHSA official and extremely, extremely popular sport of girls’ flag football. And we've got two guests on today to break a lot of this down. There are 222 teams participating and our TV ratings were off the charts for the championships last year. One of the girls’ flag football games is one of the most watched on our entire GPB Sports YouTube page. This sport is blowing up in Georgia. Jon and I am so excited to be breaking this down for our listeners.
Jon Nelson: So, for those of you that haven't had the chance to watch it go to the GPB Sports YouTube channel and do a search for the West Forsyth - Hillgrove game, and that is the one.
Hannah Goodin: It will blow you away.
Jon Nelson: That is one of the few is one of the most viewed clips that we have in our files on the GPB Sports YouTube channel. And it was funny when we started doing this couple a couple of seasons ago on showing the games on our air as a part of championship weekend, there was a big surprise at how receptive folks were about watching these games as the predecessor, the daily predecessor to the football games and on social media and on our Twitter and everything. It's all blowing up. And the one quote that has always stuck with me is -that - this is the-this one particular Twitter user said that “this is the guilty pleasure. I didn't know that I had until I started watching.” And I think that that's key in all of this. Once you start watching, you're bought in, and you are absolutely hooked.
Hannah Goodin: You're hooked. And it is it is true across the entire state. We had the honor of airing the very first championships in 2020, and some of the clips were on SportsCenter Top 10 the very next day. There were two divisions. Then the sport became so popular. Now there are three divisions which we aired the three championship games in 2021. The future of the sport could be I talked to Ernie Yarborough, the assistant executive director of GHSA, and there could be four divisions just next season. So, the snowball is-is continuing down the hill.
Jon Nelson: Not a surprise when you have now 222 is the number that you gave right this year. Basically, that's half of the schools in the GHSA. Wow. That are attaching themselves to flag football because it's north of 400. I want to say it's like 438 or something.
Hannah Goodin: You don't know the official numbers.
Jon Nelson: 405 play football. And so, I'm trying.
Hannah Goodin: You don't know the official number?
Jon Nelson: It's 438, but I think 405 were attached to football in one way or another. And you've got half of that number going through a COVID year, coming out of a COVID year, and it's basically doubled and doubled again. Yeah. To where you're north of 200. So, you've got more than 50% of the participating members in the Georgia High School Association now attached to flag football. And literally, this is like trying to grab a comet by the tail and trying to figure out how we get to-to lock into it. So now it's been really cool. Yeah.
Hannah Goodin: So, we're going to break all that down with our guests today. But I want to get started with a quote from the West Forsyth, A.D., Brett Phipps. I talked to him about the Wolverine State Championship in the very first year in 2000 and why he thinks the sport has taken off. Here's what he told me.
Brett Phipps, West Forsyth AD: We obviously live in a hotbed of football in the state of Georgia. And, you know, everyone, men and women enjoy the game. And so, I think the kids just saw this as a way to get involved. And then when we finally got to do that inaugural season for us when we were piloting it, the thing that I started noticing is how much every game the crowd got a little bigger. You know, the first couple games there was just some parents there. But by the end of the season, we actually had a really good crowd for the championship which we hosted here that night. And so many of the people that came said they couldn't get over how fun it was. And I've kind of equated it to kind of like arena like football. It's fast paced, lots of action, lots of scoring. And I just think I think it's just a fun hour to sit and watch, you know, football, really.
Jon Nelson: And he's not wrong. He's absolutely not wrong with-with that. And I like the comparison to arena football because it's fast. You've got to be paying attention. It's constantly there and the action is nonstop, and you get to see a new round of stars that are attached to the sport. With West Forsyth winning and Calvary Day winning in 2020. In 2021, it was Southeast Bulloch, it was Dodge, and it was Hillgrove. And we've gotten to see rivalries actually start forming.
Hannah Goodin: Already in.
Jon Nelson: Their first just a couple of initial years, you're starting to see rivalries show up in flag football. I think it's really cool.
Hannah Goodin: Well, the reason I reached out to Brett was that was because we have a big announcement to make drum.
Jon Nelson: Drum Roll, hit it.
Hannah Goodin: We will be airing a full schedule of flag football this fall, live streaming starting with West Forsyth's Clash of Champions. So, it's a kickoff tournament involving six teams. On October 13th, there'll be a 6:00 pm game, 7:00 game, 8:00 game and we are streaming the entire thing, and this is huge.
Jon Nelson: So, follow along if you're not so far, download the GPB Sports app available for iOS and Android. So however, you are accessing your streaming these days October 13th and if I'm not mistaken, that's a Thursday. So, Thursday night, October 13th, the clash of champions at West Forsyth. This is like the-the Daytona 500.
Hannah Goodin: For girls flag football.
Jon Nelson: Like girls’ flag football because you like to have the big race right at the beginning of the year. That's what you've got with the Daytona 500. So, this is the Daytona 500 calling it right now. The Daytona 500 of girls’ flag football here in the state of Georgia. Schedule right now as we know it, 6:00, your lead off is Southeast Bulloch and Hillgrove, two defending champs going up against each other in game number one portal. And we'll have some Portal assistance in discussing flag football and participation. Portal participation. Say that ten times.
Hannah Goodin Portal Participation.
Jon Nelson Thank you. We'll have some Portal participation here on the podcast in just a little bit. Discussing Portal, the Portal Panthers who have made two championship game appearances, they're going to be taking on Archer in the middle game. And at 8:00 West Forsyth, your hosts taking on Marietta. So, three great matchups Thursday night, October 13th on the GPB streaming platforms, you're going to get The Cash of Champions, the Daytona 500 of girls flag football in the state of Georgia coming up in October. Very, very cool.
Hannah Goodin But we're going to fool you, we're going to treat this like a real broadcast. And it's going to be we're going to we're going to give these girls what they deserve. The airtime of what they deserve.
Jon Nelson: It is going to be absolutely epic to see this in this format. And, you know, and Brett mentioned the crowd, and I want to see what the crowd's going to be like, especially with everyone traveling from all these different locations.
Hannah Goodin: Yeah, coming up from the south as well as central.
Jon Nelson: East Central Georgia is going to be represented with two of the six teams in Southeast Bulloch and Portal. They may pool their resources to come up and to see the-the impact from East Central Georgia coming up for the clash of champions. I think that's going to be great, obviously, with what we know from Cobb County and Forsyth County, they're going to be coming in. So, I can't wait to see what the crowds are going to be like on this Thursday night.
Hannah Goodin: And second part of our announcement following the clash of champions, we will be streaming a game of the week every Thursday on GPB Sports.
Jon Nelson: Very, very cool.
Hannah Goodin: It's exciting, exciting.
Jon Nelson: Home for flag football here in the state of Georgia. It is GPB Sports and all of the GPB platforms. And just think about how big this has become. We've seen it grow here in the state of Georgia like doubled and doubled again in very short time. Alabama High School Association, they had their first ever state championships last year. The state of New York and New Jersey, they're in the tri state. New Jersey had their state championships, and they played it at MetLife Stadium.
Hannah Goodin: Wow, how cool.
Jon Nelson: They had they had eight teams go into their particular championship round and then they whittled it down there in like I think it was like one day tournament for eight teams to start things off as a pilot program, playing it at MetLife Stadium, the home of the Giants and the Jets. You get that kind of experience. You come to downtown Atlanta, and you get to see it there with our friends at Georgia State Stadium as well, and Mercedes Benz and at Center Parc. But no, it's fantastic to see all this stuff go down.
Hannah Goodin: All right. Well, let's get to our guests today because they have a plethora of knowledge on all things girls flag football. And our first one helped put the sports on the map in Georgia. That's the District Athletic Director for Cherokee County Schools, Tonya Sebring. We'll bring her in. Tonya, thank you so much for joining us today. Now, I know the Atlanta Falcons played a huge role in getting girls flag football up and running. What all did they do and how did you get involved?
Tonya Sebring, District AD Cherokee Co. Schools: Well, yes, the Atlanta Falcons have been a huge partner in getting this thing up and going. I actually met Amanda Dunkel who is in charge of community relations and getting this thing off the ground as a part of Arthur Blank’s vision. She introduced herself and presented at one of our what we call Metro Region athletics directors meetings, which is basically a meeting of all the athletic directors, district athletic directors in metro area. And she pitched Arthur Blake's vision that, hey, we want to start flag football. We think there is a need here or a want here, and we're going to fully fund it. We just need you to apply for the grant. And I went back to my superintendent and my school operations chief and said, you know, listen, this is at no cost to us, and this is another opportunity for our kids. I think we need to take advantage of it. And from there, we applied for the grant, the Atlanta Falcons, they were wonderful. They helped us along the way from anywhere from purchasing equipment and uniforms to offering clinics. They've just been a true partner in this growing sport, for sure.
Jon Nelson: What's it been like to see it grow practically exponentially here in the state of Georgia over the last handful of years?
Tonya Sebring, District AD Cherokee Co. Schools: Oh, it's been amazing. And I've always been a proponent of opportunity for all athletes. But just to see, give our girls an opportunity to play flag football is just amazing. And, you know, it's one of those things that until you try it, you just didn't know if there was going to be that interest there. But I can tell you, in our pilot program, we had six schools that participated in all. Six of our high schools participated. And well, we had an interest meeting. And just from that pilot year, we knew that this thing was going to grow because from the interest meeting, we had at one high school, over 100 kids show up, they had to split the try out. So that was really cool. And then once the pilot program got off the ground and the word got out, there was, you know, buzz around the surrounding districts, like, why aren't we doing that? You know, why can Cherokee girls play football? We can't play football. So, it's just been really cool to watch it all unfold and to really watch the sport grow. You know, from the first championship game to this past, when you can just see the skill level, just continue to get more and more sophisticated because the girls are more familiar with the sport.
Hannah Goodin: I know adding another official GHSA sport was complicated enough trying to squeeze that in and in October when there's so many other things going on, but for schools, it's difficult as well, right? So, you're having a varsity team and now some schools have so much interest, they need a J.V. team. How is all of this working?
Tonya Sebring, District AD Cherokee Co. Schools: So that's a funny story. We actually had a principal that when we pitched this to our schools, we had a principal who was a little bit hesitant, not based on the fact that he didn't want to support the girls or the activity, but just where are we going to fit this in our schedule? And if it's just going to be a few girls and, you know, we're adding another activity to-to potentially have to, you know, finance in the future. And I'm just not sure this thing is going to work. It's not hard. He was kind of kicking and screaming. I drug him into the pilot program. And two months later, you know, the pilot program comes to an end. He calls me up on the phone. He says, Coach Sebring, that's how he knew me. Because they bring, we got to we got add a JV program. We’ve got too many girls. We're cutting kids we don't need to be cutting kids on this. So, it was really it was an "aha" moment for him that it was a pretty special moment for me.
Jon Nelson: When you get to see all this stuff progress, I know that when we're discussing high school football on the boys’ side, we're looking at regions and we're looking at traditional rivalries and things like that. It's a little different, the layout than it is for flag football, just for-for folks that might sit there and look at teams that aren't necessarily familiar to them in the high school football regions set up describe the areas set up and how all that comes together.
Tonya Sebring, District AD Cherokee Co. Schools: Right. So, I think eventually we will get to regions, but the area set up is actually for growing sports or sports that don't have full participation in order to create regions. So, a lot of times you'll have to create an area that might combine regions or combine specific areas based on travel. And I'll give you an example. Our county schools are an area. So, we've also picked up Blessed Trinity and Roswell and Fellowship Christian. Fellowship Christian would not even be in our classification. Exactly. But because they are geographically removed, they have moved them into our area for our competition.
Jon Nelson: What's it like to have all of these different aha moments as-as the sport continues to grow? You mentioned that Aha moment locally, but what's it like to see all of these aha moments? And it's not just about the sport and what it's able to do, but you're talking about all of the other redeeming qualities that you have off the field that are there on the field as well. What's it like to see all of these other things happening that are a series of aha moments with this sport?
Tonya Sebring, District AD Cherokee Co. Schools: Well, I'll tell you, it's amazing. And what the-the main thing that I have seen just in the three short years that I've been involved with flag football in our district, with our schools, is number one, flag football offers-offers an opportunity for maybe somebody who didn't have a fit somewhere else, maybe they weren't a good softball player, or they weren't a good volleyball player. The sport is so new that, you know, they have athletic ability, or they have that interest in football, that there's really a combination of kids that come out for this. And it offers, you know, we're in this life now. Of, you start playing volleyball at age nine and you play volleyball with the same group of girls all through high school. But this is a different aha moment. You know, you're joining a different team and with different obviously the same goal is to, you know, when are competing, but it's really good to watch the sport grow, but also to watch kids come together and become multi-sport athletes that haven't even thought about doing that. And the second part of that question would be off the field. You know, our first year, Sequoyah High School did a have a great story that I shared at a clinic that I visited for the Falcons. And that was they enjoyed the game of flag football so much. They had a manager who was with the Goshen Valley Boys Ranch, which is for foster kids. He was he was their manager. And they kind of took him under their wing. And come Christmas and Thanksgiving, they went out to that Goshen Valley Boys Ranch and that Sequoia softball team excuse me, flag football team had a day of flag football teaching those that group of boys how to play flag football. And they had a great co-ed game, and it was just a really good story, bringing everybody together and community.
Hannah Goodin: This is bigger than just Georgia, right? This is this is going nationwide. And you've actually pitched to another professional team to get things going in that in another state, correct?
Tonya Sebring, District AD Cherokee Co. Schools: That is correct. Yes. I did a virtual clinic. I say I did it. I was part of a virtual clinic who spoke on how to strategize, on how to get a program up and going. And the Buffalo Bills had tuned in to that that virtual clinic that the Falcons had put on. And so, the community relations director, I don't know if that's his official title, he reached out to me and asked if I would do the same thing for the Buffalo Bills. So, I believe they're in the infancy stages of that, but they're really excited. And I'm just trying to you know, obviously the Falcons have done this, right. They've put the money behind it, they put the effort behind it. And I think you'll see a lot more professional teams trying to jump on board with this initiative.
Hannah Goodin: Last question for you. What is it like to see the fruits of your labor come to fruition with girls’ flag football on TV, on GPB? And what do you think the future of the sport will be?
Tonya Sebring, District AD Cherokee Co. Schools:: Well, I'll tell you, it's surreal and it is. I've been in this business for the athletics business for a long time, from coaching to being the local school athletic director to now a district athletic director. And really, it's just all about offering positive experiences and opportunities for kids. And I think that we've done that. And I think with the help of the Falcons and Georgia High School, they've hit the nail on the head. And with this being a, you know, a sport right out of chute, it continues to grow. I think within the next two or three years, you're going to see a full region schedule where the schedules will mirror what the softball, the volleyball and the football schedules look like. In other words, schools competing within those regions.
Hannah Goodin: Awesome. Tanya, well, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate this. And we cannot wait to air a full season of flag football coming up. Jon.
Tonya Sebring, District AD Cherokee Co. Schools: That's going to be going to be exciting. I hope to see you on the sideline.
Jon Nelson: So, thanks for hanging out with us. We really appreciate it.
Tonya Sebring, District AD Cherokee Co. Schools: Okay, y'all have a good day.
Jon Nelson: You, too.
Tonya Sebring, District AD Cherokee Co. Schools: All right. Bye-bye.
Jon Nelson: Bye. As always, great to catch up with Coach Sebring to find out how things started and where they're continuing to grow. And especially with her input up there in Cherokee County, we mentioned earlier in the show that this is taking hold in East Central Georgia as well. We mentioned that Portal Panther podcast participation. So here it is, the new head coach who's been an assistant for quite some time. He knows what flag football means to where you're playing, Michael Holsonback, the new head coach of the Portal Panthers.
Hannah Goodin: Coach Holsonback, thank you so much for joining us today. We are really excited to be here talking about girls’ flag football and hey, big congratulations to you. You were recently promoted from assistant to head coach of the Portal Panthers.
Michael Holsonback, Portal Head Flag Football: Yay, well, I say that I'm excited. I've met with some of the prospective team members yesterday, on Friday, and I'm more of a behind the scenes kind of guy. Okay. But the guy that started the program, he retired from teaching this past February, and I just felt like I wanted to take a different role and see if we can continue what's been going on the last two years in Portal, Georgia.
Jon Nelson: And I mean, you mentioned and it's almost like discussing a legacy, considering what-what Jay was able to do in a very short period of time with a new sport there-there in Portal. What's it been like to have a championship contending side ever since the sport started? Like literally from the jump Portal has been a part of the discussion chasing after the last game of the year. What's that been like the last couple of years?
Michael Holsonback, Portal Head Flag Football: It's been a huge boost to the community is for and you know Portal is one of the smallest single A schools in the state and we probably have just if I was just estimating maybe 125 girls in the entire nine through 12th grade. So, the first year we played Greenbrier in the semifinals, you're looking at a 4A or 5A school, which so they have a larger pool of young ladies to pull from. As Coach Reddick always said on the field, it's seven on seven, but it's been just a boost, a huge boost to the community walking around and people say, oh, I saw you on television. I saw your girls play back-to-back state championships. And so, it's-it's been humbling, humbling to just the comments from other people about the success of the program so early.
Hannah Goodin: You said you just met with the team and you're a behind the scenes guy. So, what was it like for you to be up there in front of the team? What was your message to them and what was that like for you?
Michael Holsonback, Portal Head Flag Football: Well, it's funny. One of the players from last year said to me, you said you're a behind the scenes guy and you're going to be the head coach. Same kind of question. How are you going to work? I can do the head coach. The advantage that Coach Reddick had is he was the media specialist at the high school. Okay? So, his schedule was a little more flexible. So, he was able to do a lot of things, little things that will be a little more challenging for me, such as watching game film. He can call the girls to come down the office at lunchtime and they can watch film. So, some of those small detail things he was able to do that gave us a little bit of a boost because now he played sixteen years of college flag football, so he brought a wealth of knowledge with them, and we played together. So, I'm just going to try to take some of the things that he did and keep moving forward. And there's little things that I may change, but for the most part, we're just going to keep the train running.
Jon Nelson: You mention you mentioned keeping the train running and it's been really cool to see what it means for these athletes. And I'm not just talking about, you know, wins and losses and chasing championships and all that kind of stuff. It's about, you know, self-esteem and, you know, winning in a sport and all of the team elements. Now we get to see that in flag football. What's it been like for you and the coaching staff and everybody there at Portal to see all of the growth, not just on the field but off of it with these athletes?
Michael Holsonback, Portal Head Flag Football: Well, what's been impressive is getting, you know, the first year, I think when we had our first meeting, 47 girls came out and expressed an interest in playing. When tryouts came around, we had 13 girls try out. 13 girls made the team this past season, I think there were 24 people became and tried out, including veterans from the previous year. And yes, Friday's meeting there was about 39 40 girls if I estimate.
Hannah Goodin: Wow.
Michael Holsonback, Portal Head Flag Football: So, it is growing the interest in the sport girls wanting to play football. And just like the boys do.
Hannah Goodin: Mm hmm.
Michael Holsonback, Portal Head Flag Football: But just in a different capacity, you know? Flag belts, shorter fields, different time frame. But it's just good to see girls playing football.
Hannah Goodin: Let's elaborate on that a little more and talk some X's and O's. What are the biggest differences in flag football than regular football besides the obvious, the flag and the no contact? You know, take me through some plays. What all goes into it?
Michael Holsonback, Portal Head Flag Football: Well, you're playing seven on seven, so everybody's eligible for a pass. So, when the ball snaps the center, the lineman, receivers, everybody can go out. So, you can run ah-uh we call it six wides. When the ball snap, all six people-
Jon Nelson: Everybody is running a vert.
Hannah Goodin: Everyone go.
Jon Nelson: Everyone is on a bird.
Michael Holsonback, Portal Head Flag Football: Run-Running vertical or running some kind of route. You may have alternate, have them doing curls, one's doing the air curl, one's doing if I go curl all the way across from left to right or right to left, however you want to do it. So. So the defense got to be on their toes finding the right players. Your rushers on defense are important. If-if you have a few good rushers that are quick and can put pressure on the quarterback, that will dictate how the game is going to go. If they don't necessarily play assignment football, then you're chasing the quarterback. And then when that happens, then you've got defenders having to leave their women to come up, make plays, and you do that and then the quarterback pick apart so everybody's eligible for a pass. When I started playing in 83 as a freshman at Georgia Southern, everybody had two blocking backs. So, when the ball was snapped, you had two rushers was two blockers trying to screen brought in the quarterback. The game evolved now is you know everybody's going out for a pass and it's one on one you got one rusher chasing the quarterback and you know you're going to get the sack, or the quarterback gets outside. Somebody can open and so, you got to have a short game in a long game because a team's able to shut down the play, a prevent defense play. To stop the long passes, you got to be able to throw the ball short in pitch and things like that and be creative. Get schemes off guard because you can watch everybody on film.
Jon Nelson: I want to ask about support. And it was something that you talked about briefly just a couple of minutes ago with Portal being one of the smaller schools in single-A and it's in East Central Georgia. And we know that football is king in the-the high school football element on Friday nights. What has the support been like and what has it evolved into there for the flag football team? What is it like in the community? What's it like in a in a in a community the size of portal, both for the school support and the community support. What is it been like to see and how much is it grown with the success of the program?
Michael Holsonback, Portal Head Flag Football: Um, you know, initially the first season we only played I think two or three home games. So, most of our crowd support were parents of the kids that were playing. Last year, we did have more, more people come and play. We've had great we've done a couple of fundraisers where we do this year, we're going to do a golf tournament. Usually, they pick three sports and this year they started. So, we're going to try to raise money for the program to help with finances, especially towards when we make trips. Like when we made Atlanta, we rented a bus and instead of driving the yellow school bus, that only goes 55 miles an hour.
Jon Nelson: There you go.
Michael Holsonback, Portal Head Flag Football: So, we had to raise we have we have to raise funds. We've had some generous donations from the community. So, this is its sports been really good. And I hope it even grows more as we get bigger, and more people come out and see us play with the success that we've had the past two years.
Hannah Goodin: Along those same lines. Jon, when a sport becomes popular like girls, like football is, and when you start becoming good like Portal is right back-to-back state championship runs, you literally could not have gone further. Besides, besides winning, which you guys could do again this year, the pressures change. How have you seen the sport change in just the few years that it's been around?
Michael Holsonback, Portal Head Flag Football: Look, you know, the first year after we've met, the first time we got together. If you had been watching us preparing for the first game, you would have been like, they're going to have a long year. We were we were meeting, and Coach Reddick was walking, and he said, oh, I've already made reservations to the-the barbecue place outside Turner Field. And I said, well, what was that for? Because, well, we have to have like the high expectations. If we don't have high expectations for ourselves and the girls, they're not going to have expectations. Because my goal is to win the state championship the first year and you know, you got to have some breaks. We had a couple games in the playoffs. The COVID interrupted and-and so there were a couple of comments about that. Someone said, well, you know, they you know, they got it was on. I think someone tweeted; I don't know who it was said something about. Well, they got a couple of games that were forfeits and you know, you play the cards that are handed to you. So, to follow that up the next year, I think we played we beat three number one seeds in the playoffs and then lost to the number one seed in the championship game. So, you know, we have a you know, we have a tough a tough road to go this year. Our sub area, there's two there's 12 teams now. So, we're going to have to six, six team areas and they went from one 1A to 5A. So, we're definitely going to have to step it up and see if we can find some gems within that within our schoolgirls that haven’t, they didn't play last year or the year before that are athletic, that maybe we can turn those skills into a finished product to help us be successful again this year. Because you never know when we start in September when we finally, you know, have the actual tryouts, you don't know who's coming back and you don't know who's new is going to come at your program. So, you're open. We're going to try to do some sessions next week with some of the kids who have never played. Just to kind of give them a feel of what the game is. But you're very limited because you're only going to have four, four people on the field at one time with a coach. So again, to do it like in the little time slots before comes at 330, they leave and go home, and other groups comes in so we can get an idea of what kind of talent we have and what kind of knowledge they have about the game of football.
Jon Nelson: So then let me ask you this with the student body, any student body, if you're a coach. If I ask you as a coach of a successful program, why flag football? Why should why should student athletes lean toward flag football as a sport and as an experience during their high school years? Why flag football?
Michael Holsonback, Portal Head Flag Football: Because it's so much fun. It's fast. You're-you're there is contact. You're diving for flags. You get a chance to go to Atlanta and play for a state championship.
Hannah Goodin: Sweet.
Michael Holsonback, Portal Head Flag Football: It's tremendous. I played I played overall in my life. I played 27 years. And when Coach Redick called me and said, hey, we're going to have a flag football team at Portal, you said. Want to be a part of. I said, you darn right and in in to go out there and to be able to take what I've learned over all these years and be able to transfer that to a group, ladies, and see once that light bulb goes off because like the first season each game, we just got a little bit better. If you told me we're going to end up in the championship game, I'd been like, I just don't see it. But each game we just got a little bit better. And then when we played Dodge County, the champs from this past season for the, the, the second area and we beat them 19 to nothing. That's when I, I saw especially on defense, the girls were getting it about what we were trying to do. And it just kept going all the way to the championship game. Even though we came up a little bit short, it was still a great season.
Hannah Goodin: Last question for you, and it goes off those same lines. So, you said you played collegiately. There are opportunities for women to play collegiately flag football as well. Right. And that's gaining that's gaining popularity.
Michael Holsonback, Portal Head Flag Football: Yes. You know, before I don't know how long they've been doing it NAIA before it was just intramural flag football. I think there are right now through a program with the amount of package, there's 15 NAIA schools that are offering flag football scholarships. To play flag football. And that's I mean, and hopefully that's going to get bigger each year. I went up to the coaches’ clinic, new coaches’ clinic in Macon three or four weeks ago, and there and uh and the lady from the Falcons was just talking about how much they are putting into the sport. They're committed because they want more women. In college football and in the NFL in some capacity. And maybe someday there's going to be an opportunity for a female to play at that level. I don't know. But I certainly don't want to be the one to tell them you can't play football. And maybe, maybe they can say you can't play in pads because physically it doesn't work. But like football gives them another opportunity. It's another sport they're able to-to learn and to excel in. So, I just think it's a tremendous opportunity.
Hannah Goodin: Awesome. Got chills. Got chills. Love this sport. Love talking about girls playing football. Thank you so much for your time, coach. And we cannot wait to see you guys play this fall and hopefully air to see your team on another state championship.
Michael Holsonback, Portal Head Flag Football: I hope so, too. I think October 13th we're going up to Forsyth County and playing in the Clash of Champions.
Jon Nelson: That is true. You're playing Archer?
Michael Holsonback, Portal Head Flag Football: Yes. Archer. Very good. Yeah. The challenge this year is going to be Southeast Bulloch, the defending champs. They're there. We're on we're- we're in the same county. So, it's interesting. People were upset last year, and they were saying that, you know, you think that the Georgia high schools would move the championship game here locally. And I look at them and I'd say, now they've had this planned out for months. They're supposed to put an asterisk. So, if two teams from the same county play will play locally, what an experience for these young ladies to go to Atlanta for the semifinals and for the championship game and play-play outside the dome, play inside out, which means they will turn the field in front of all those people televised. You just don't get that kind of exposure. So, you can't.
Jon Nelson: So, is there any truth to the rumor that Porter will play SEB at Paulson?
Michael Holsonback, Portal Head Flag Football: Ah, I haven't heard that.
Jon Nelson: I'm just starting a rumor.
Michael Holsonback, Portal Head Flag Football: I haven't heard that rumor.
Jon Nelson: I just started it, Coach. I just started that rumor.
Hannah Goodin: Jon is making things up.
Michael Holsonback, Portal Head Flag Football: You know, it's interesting you say that, but they do the Erik Russell Classic toy kick off the tackle football season here and Portal is going to play Treutlen County.
Jon Nelson: There you go.
Michael Holsonback, Portal Head Flag Football: Portal never had that. And I don't know. We usually play them. It's at Panther Stadium, but it might be something I have to look into. That would be kind of cool.
Jon Nelson: There you go.
Hannah Goodin: Yeah. Awesome, Coach. Well, we will be talking to you very soon and I guess. Yeah, you'll be right back on our airwaves October 13th, where and all those games which we announced today on the podcast.
Michael Holsonback, Portal Head Flag Football: Yeah. All right. Well, hey, I really appreciate you giving me this opportunity to talk about Portal Georgia and the Lady Portal Panthers. I really do.
Jon Nelson: It's all good. Thanks again, coach. We really appreciate it.
Michael Holsonback, Portal Head Flag Football: Yes, sir. Yes, ma'am. You guys have a great rest of your day.
Jon Nelson: Thanks, coach.
Michael Holsonback, Portal Head Flag Football: All right.
Jon Nelson: Great to catch up with Coach. And that was something that he said in there. That kind of kind of triggered a memory for me. Have you ever seen the documentary the "30 for 30" show on the advance of the NC State Championship team? Okay. There was a moment where I think it was Derek Wittenberg was talking about what they would do at practice, and they actually took one practice during that season and they would just practice cutting down the nets that literally no ball movement, no-no relapse, no nothing. They would actually bring the ladder out, bring out the scissors. Everybody goes up the ladder and they practice what it's like winning a championship practice, cutting down the nets. And I thought that that was really cool when I heard Coach Holsonback talking about what Coach Reddick did, making the reservations for the barbecue restaurant in Atlanta. I thought that that was really cool with the expectation level that he has for this program that's in its, you know, first couple of growth.
Hannah Goodin: Infancy.
Jon Nelson: And he's-he's like, I'll make dinner reservations for barbecue in downtown Atlanta because I expect this to be there. And I think that that's really cool out of the blocks for a coach to sit there and have that high expectation, wanting to be playing in the last game of the year.
Hannah Goodin: Yeah, I mean, you're just bringing it to fruition. Vision Board. Yes, if you will.
Jon Nelson: A Vision Board. And, also one other thing, the idea when you're talking about scholarships, I've heard from other coaches that legitimately there will be players who will be contacted after we air the championship games at Georgia State Stadium.
Hannah Goodin: That is so cool.
Jon Nelson: They will be. Getting scholarship offers like the day they get home. Coaches are calling them up after the weekend. It's like scholarship offer or they're reaching out on social media next day after they play, scholarship offers. So once again, really cool stuff involving what we're seeing with flag football.
Hannah Goodin: Yeah, I wanted to get that last question in because when you have a sport like this that's gaining popularity, you know how what all goes into a sport where it's whether it's girls or boys or their girls are putting their hearts into this game now and what's next? You know, are there coaching opportunities? Are there scholarship opportunities? You know, what's going to be the next level for girls’ flag football? And I love that the NCAA is adding these sports to their to their lineup.
Jon Nelson: Yeah. And I thought that it was really cool. Going back quickly to Coach Sebring's interview before we, you know, bring in Ernie Yarborough quickly, where she was mentioning how it's being impacted with other NFL franchises. And the idea that you could, you know, impress the Pegula’s is Kim and Terry Pegula, the owners of the Buffalo Bills. If they're seeing what Arthur Blank is doing, they're going to want to do the same thing. And as much as they enjoy, they have that impact in Buffalo and they want to make sure that that legacy is there. Having something like this certainly could add to the legacy if it's something that they do in the New York public schools there in western New York.
Hannah Goodin: Yeah, well, we've been talking about a lot of positives on the sport, but there are still some stigmas when it comes to girls’ flag football. And I was able to talk to Ernie Yarbrough, the assistant executive director of the GHSA, and he explained to me what still needs to be done.
Ernie Yarbrough, GHSA Asst. Exec. Director: For some reason, and we know this is football country, but for some reason, the schools in South Georgia are very reluctant to, you know, to put their toe in the water and feel what it's going to be like. But I expect that to change relatively soon. I think probably at-at some point in time, we're probably going to have four divisions. But it's-it's extremely popular. I can't tell you how many folks, you know, talk to me about it and and-and to Dr. Hines and-and always comment on how much they enjoy watching it. Because I think part of the reluctance in the beginning was, is, oh, what's it going to be? Is it going to be, you know, the traditional powder puff game that they have in the spring and all that? Well, it is far from that. These are these are all skilled athletes that are extremely competitive.
Hannah Goodin: I've been waiting all podcast to say that it's not powder puff. Right? This is something so different. And the teams in South Georgia have got to wrap their mind around it and get with it, Jon.
Jon Nelson: Well, and all I'm going in and, that was kind of why I was asking Coach Sebring and Coach Holsonback what it means not just on the field but off all of the-the issues involving being involved in your community, being involved in a sport that you may not necessarily have, you know, had the chance to-to be involved in for one reason or another. You know, you find yourself you find a home for yourself in your skill set athletically with having something like flag football right there on your campus. And, and so that's why I wanted to bring that to the table. As you know, you have all the other issues that we see in all the other sports. It's about self-esteem. It's about teamwork, all those other things. Flag football gives you that next element of it with a new sport that you can get in pretty much on the ground for in the state of Georgia. And Georgia is on the ground floor and has been in making sure that this as a high school sport nationwide, is making an impact. So, you're getting it at twofold ground level in your community and your school ground level in a top three state for athletics in the country. And I'll stipulate to that. Two ways that you can make an impact in your community by hopping onto the flag football train.
Hannah Goodin: Well, this has been an awesome podcast.
Jon Nelson: Oh, no doubt.
Hannah Goodin: I’m so excited that we got to shed this huge light on flag football and break it down here from some of the people that are heavily involved across the state. And, and I feel privileged that we get to be airing some of this a full schedule on our streaming platforms and maybe wink-wink vision board. We can get a lot more of these games on-on our actual air coming up in the next couple of years.
Jon Nelson: Quick reminder once again. Clash of champions, as I'm calling it, the Daytona 500 for flag football here in the state of Georgia. Clash of Champions on the GPB streaming services October 13th. So however, you access the GPB stream, download the GPB Sports app, iOS and Android, could be the GPB app. And however, you watch things on Georgia Public Broadcasting in whatever form it is, it is October 13th, Thursday night. GPB.org as well will be doing that. They get a three-dimensional streaming experience, GPB.org Sports app, all of that. October 13th Clash of Champions Southeast Bulloch and Hillgrove, Archer and Portal, West Forsyth in Marietta at 6:00, at 7:00 and at 8:00.
Hannah Goodin: And then every Thursday.
Jon Nelson: After and then Thursdays after that. As we get you headed towards Center Parc and Pete Petit Field for the state championships as well. So, we are your home for flag football here in the state of Georgia. GPB, GPB.org, and the GPB Sports app. So, for Hannah and for everyone who has been a part of putting this show together, everyone Tonya Sebring, the district lady for Cherokee County Schools, Michael Holsonback, the new head coach of the Portal Panthers. It is Commander Sandy, Jake the Snake and King James as well. I am just Jon. Spring football is here folks and it's not just informed for what we see on Football Fridays. Play it safe, everybody. Enjoy your football.