It’s a pirate’s flag football life for them.
Hundreds of local girls — as young as kindergarteners and as old as high schoolers — are bringing their talents to the Land O’ Lakes Recreation Complex. The competitors are showing the area that flag football is not only a growing sport, but popular enough to expand.
They are part of the Pirate Bay Flag Football League that has been operating out of Land O’ Lakes since 2018, but now is also part of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Flag Football Network. The league also has partnered with the Pasco County Parks, Recreation, and Natural Resources Department.
The organization has grown so much from its humble beginnings that it now has two coinciding seasons with various age groups. It even has teams that travel nationally to compete.
“When it started, there were just 16 girls,” one of the organizers Justin Spiegel said. “Now, we have 20-plus teams on both days.”
League founder Bobby Fox set out to create a league through i9 Sports, but that organization didn’t think he’d be able to get enough players. Now, more than five years later, Pirate Bay actually had to start a boys branch of the league because it became so popular.
It was only recently that Pirate Bay — its name since nearly the beginning — joined the Bucs Network, which was able to get help with some cost offsets, such as uniforms and equipment that carry the Bucs logos.
“(Being partnered with the Bucs) gives us more visibility, too,” Spiegel said. “We were also able to go down and practice in the training facility (in West Tampa), which was great. Even on opening day, the cheerleaders came out and took pictures with everyone, so the Bucs have been so supportive and great.”
In the league, there are games played Fridays, in which registration is handled by the Pasco Parks Department, and features four age divisions, including middle and high school teams, which play 7v7 on full fields.
On Sundays, there are seven age divisions, starting at age 4 and maxing out at 17, but all those teams play 5v5.
The next season begins in February and registration is underway.
The league’s popularity — with its ability to attract players from as far as Westchase and Riverview — has Spiegel, Fox and company wondering what it will take for Pasco County Schools and its Athletic Department to implement girls flag football teams at the middle and high schools, just like its Hillsborough County Schools counterparts do at schools such as Wharton and Steinbrenner high schools.
The league, with backing from the Bucs, is working on getting a program in Pasco schools, but Spiegel and the rest don’t know what’s holding that up.
But these representatives do know, and have plenty of proof, that it would be a welcome addition to the Pasco schools.
“My daughter just went into ninth grade and there’s nothing for her. We’ve really been pushing 7v7 at the middle and high levels, we just don’t know why it doesn’t keep happening,” Spiegel said. “The rumor is it’s a financial thing, but the Bucs said they would kick in the backing to fund it, so we just don’t know why from the other side.
“But, I can tell you, the girls want that. I know my daughter does, because I’m sure every high school in Pasco would be able to or even want to be able to field a varsity girls flag football team. I guess we always think, if Hillsborough (County) can, why can’t Pasco (County)?”
Pirate Bay Flag Football
Where: Land O’ Lakes Recreation Complex, 3032 Collier Parkway
Cost: $139 per player
Details: The league will begin its two spring seasons March 3, with a mandatory Player Combine on Feb. 18. Registration deadline is Feb. 9. There is a Friday night league that plays games from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., and a Sunday morning/afternoon league that plays games from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. All players registered will be drafted. The league, on Sundays, has seven different age divisions, while on Fridays, it has four different age divisions. Note: the Friday night league is through the Pasco County Parks, Recreation, and Natural Resource Department and that registration information can be found on Pirate Bay’s web site.
For more information or to register, visit PirateBayFlag.com.
Published December 13, 2023