VILLA PARK, Ill. – Willowbrook High School senior Sarah Ball played flag football for the first time just this June, but she’s proven a quick study.
“She’s a dream to coach,” said Rachel Karos, Willowbrook flag football’s co-head coach.
“Sarah is awesome, I love her,” said Willowbrook senior linebacker Roslyn Sanchez. “It’s unbelievable. I’m blown away.
“The girls make you want to be the best teammate you can be, and the coaches make you want you to show up to the best of your ability and I think it’s carried us a long way,” said Ball, a star wide receiver on the team.
Ball is balling, even catching the eye of NFL analyst Brian Baldinger on Twitter, where he broke down one of her highlight reel catches.
“Brian Baldinger asked if I was on a pogo stick,” Ball said. “It was crazy, all-over Twitter. I never expected it.”
Baldinger wasn’t the only one impressed. The NFL named the track star and gymnast the national Flag Football Player of the Week September 22nd. Chicago Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney chimed in on Twitter and gifted Sarah a signed ball.
“I’ve seen it on Twitter, and I was like yeah she definitely made a better catch than me for sure,” Mooney said. “I was glad I could sign something for her and make something of her day.”
Sarah is one of 37 girls on the inaugural Willowbrook Warriors flag football team in Villa Park. They may be new to the game, but they are playing like a team of seasoned vets. The Warriors finished the regular season unbeaten while outscoring their opponents 166-0, including a memorable win over Oak Park-River Forest on senior night.
“I’ve been here 16 years, and it’s been my favorite night I’ve had,” Karos said.
“The whole student section was here, the atmosphere was amazing,” Ball said.
Last year the Bears partnered with Chicago Public Schools for the inaugural high school girls flag football league which has expanded to more than 50 teams covering the city, western suburbs, and Rockford.
“[The NFL] wants to push [flag football] so that it becomes the norm and a sport that exists,” said Nick Hildreth, Willowbrook flag football’s co-head coach and boys varsity football head coach.
“There’s already been schools around here who’s coaches said they want to start up a team next year,” Ball said. “Young girls are at the games and said they want to play. To know we are inspiring girls is amazing.”
These players are pioneers of flag football at Willowbrook, and their team mantra is, “be one of the first, but not the last.” They are laying the foundation for what they hope is a bright future for the sport at the school and entire state.
“One of the questions I asked them on their questionnaire was what it meant to be the first flag football team and in a lot of responses they understand that its bigger than them,” Karos said.
“Doing it as seniors, I wish we had this our freshmen year,” said senior quarterback Rimon Kari. “If there are girls wishing to try something new, just do it, you won’t regret it if you do it.”
The Warriors have no regrets so far, while hoping their magical first season ends in a championship October 29th at the Bears practice facility Halas Hall.
“That’s our mindset,” Ball said of getting to the championship game. “We had to get past OPRF, we know we can play the harder teams. Our mindset is ‘headed to Halas.’”
“I have 100 percent faith in this team,” Sanchez said. “I totally think we can do it if we work hard enough.”