Northern suburbs residents team up for adult coed flag football league

| Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Some consider it fantasy football in that accountants, auto mechanics, chief operating officers and hair stylists are teaming up on the gridiron every Saturday afternoon to out-run, out-pass, out-catch and out-score opposing teams on their way to winning a championship trophy.

In other circles, it simply is known as adult coed flag football.

Jamie and Jackie Vavala of Mars are the franchise owners of N Zone Sports for northern Allegheny County and southern Butler County. They began their franchise in the spring of 2012 by offering youth soccer, baseball and flag-football leagues.

This past spring, they decided to offer something for adults, as well.

“Aside from softball and bowling, there aren't a lot of opportunities for adults to compete, have fun and get exercise,” Jackie Vavala said. “We wanted to offer them something more exciting than going to the gym.”

The result was a 5-on-5 adult coed flag football league.

Approximately 30 people — ranging in age from 18 to 65 — registered for the debut season last spring; this fall, the number nearly doubled.

Games are played on Saturday afternoons at the McKinney Soccer Complex in North Park. Playoffs are Oct. 26.

Jeff Jeffers of Seven Fields played collegiate football as a cornerback at Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pa. Now 35, he said he loves playing flag football because it is as close to regular football as one can get without tackling.

“Even so, you get just as sore,” he said.

On the other end of the spectrum is Bart Costello, 28, of Ohio Township, who never played organized football until the chief operating officer at Select International in McCandless, where he works, called a companywide meeting and asked for volunteers to form a flag football squad — The Fighting Francis Rubens, named after a fictitious co-worker.

“We do a lot of fun things together outside the office,” Costello said. “But I quickly discovered that flag football is a lot more intense than it sounds.”

As a coed sport, each team must have at least one woman on the field at all times — or one man age 50 or older.

The playing field is 60 yards long. There are two 25-minute halves.

Quarterbacks have seven seconds to get rid of the ball, and the offense has three downs to move it to mid-field, then another three downs to score a touchdown.

Tackling is prohibited. Instead, a defensive player must yank the ball carrier's flag belt off his or her waist to end the play.

Dee Cunningham of Pittsburgh said he is too old for full-contact football. At 32, he knows injuries come a lot easier.

This season alone, the league has racked several injuries, he said.

“Collectively, we've suffered a pulled hamstring, a pulled ACL, skinned knees, and a poke in the eye,” he said

Claire Gonabe, 18, stands 5 feet 4 inches and weighs 100 pounds. The Ross Township resident won't soon forget her first offensive drive, in which she was being shadowed by a burly defenseman sporting tattoos, a beard of steel wool and mounds of manly musculature.

Running down field, their feet got tangled, and both crashed to the ground.

“I got taken out pretty good,” she said. “It hurt really bad.”

But she found retribution in the next play.

Alone and shallow in the end zone, she connected with a play-action lob for an easy touchdown.

“It was so much fun!” she exclaimed. “I can't wait to do it again.”

It costs $450 for a team of 10 players or $75 for an individual registrant to play for the season. Each team is guaranteed a minimum of five games — four regular-season games plus a playoff game; the top two teams compete for the season championship.

In some ways, Dan Sneider said, he is grateful the season is only five weeks long. The Ross Township man, 25, stands 5 foot 11 inches and weighs 232 pounds. He formed his flag football team via Facebook, and the extent of his football prowess had been playing pickup games on Thanksgiving.

“The first week, my team came to win it all,” he said. “But after losing 50-0, we had to adjust our expectations. So we've decided we're in it solely for the recreation.”

Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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