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On Feb. 1, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHAA) approved girls flag football as a State Championship sport in 2024.
In Section 1, schools that participated in a pilot program last spring that led to the NYSPHAA opening up the gridiron for girls included Brewster, Greenburgh-North Castle, Lakeland, Peekskill, Somers and Walter Panas.
Paving the way for females to be fearless on and off the field and make girls flag football a high school sport were two women from Somers who teamed up with the NYSPHAA and the New York Giants and created a business that originated from the success of a youth league in Somers in 2018.
“My daughter came off the field and said I have to play football,” said Jennifer Kisslinger, co-Commissioner of Gridiron Partners, Inc., whose daughter Katie was one of 30 girls who participated in the inaugural all-Girls Flag Football league. “We ended up branching out in more ways than we ever expected.”
The youth league in the Somers Youth Sports Organization grew steadily each year, now bursting with 250 girls, ages five and up, on 24 teams. It is part of the NFL FLAG program.
Kisslinger and her partner, Katie DiChiaro, handed over the responsibilities of that league so they could concentrate on starting a flag football league for women.
Gridiron Partners’ first endeavor was a Women’s Flag Football League in Jan. 2022 at the Somers Sports Arena. The league continued this fall at Solaris Sports Club in Yorktown where 95 women, ranging in age from 27 to 55, compete on seven teams in a five-on-five format.
“We really are the first and only program around here (in Westchester, Putnam and surrounding counties) wholly supported and sanctioned by the NFL,” Kisslinger stressed. “The diversity is great. We had a grandmother play. There’s a camaraderie that’s wonderful. Some of them never touched a ball before. Some our college athletes.”
While Kisslinger was a mom on the sidelines cheering on her two daughters, DiChiaro is a lifelong athlete who played intramurals at the University of Tennessee and competes in the league. A mother of three herself, DiChiaro is also the Somers Varsity Flag Football Coach.
DiChiaro said she learned to play football from her brother and “believes in developing better opportunities to serve the community in all sports by creating a safe and fun environment to learn fundamental skills, build confidence and create a lifelong love of sports.”
Last year, when pilot girls flag football programs were launched statewide, the Giants, Jets, Buffalo Bills and Nike all donated funds to help get the initiative off the ground.
“We are thrilled to see the growth of girls flag football in our region, and to support and celebrate the athletes and coaches as they make history,” Ethan Medley, Giants Director of Community Relations and Youth Football, said last year. “We know that the game of football will provide many meaningful relationships, opportunity for physical activity and competition, and many amazing lifelong memories.”
Gridiron Partners is hopeful of expanding its summer league this year to 10 teams.
“It’s become a full-time job,” Kisslinger said. “It just grew so big. Our goal is just to take it as far as the reach will take it.”
Rick has more than 40 years’ experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, running the gamut from politics and crime to sports and human interest. He has been an editor at Examiner Media since 2012. Read more from Rick’s editor-author bio here. Read Rick’s work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/pezzullo_rick-writer/