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Pittsburgh Tribune Review
October 13, 2013 Sunday
|Adult co-ed league franchise offers plenty of flags on every play|
by LAURIE REES
Some consider this to be 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 co-ed 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 spring, they decided to offer something for adults.
"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 co-ed flag football league.
About 30 people - ranging 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. 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.
Bart Costello, 28, of Ohio Township, who never played organized football until his employer, Select International in McCandless, formed a 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 co-ed sport, each team must have at least one woman on the field at all times - or one man 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 completely off his or her waist to end the play.
Claire Gonabe, 18, stands 5 feet 4 inches and weighs 100 pounds. The Ross resident won't soon forget her first offensive drive, in which she was being shadowed by a burly defenseman sporting tattoos and a beard resembling steel wool.
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 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 25-year-old Ross resident formed his flag football team via FaceBook. 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.
October 15, 2013