After months of uncertainty due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Frederick County Parks and Recreation announced in late February that it would host a spring sports season. This announcement quickly lead to Nick Damoulakis’s phone blowing up with text messages about getting teams back together.
The longtime flag football coach has led the same group of boys, including his son John, for eight years. The team, which now plays in the 15-16 age bracket, even made nationals in 2019. Last year,Damoulakis added an 11-12 all-girls team—the first ever put together for the sport in the county.
The idea for the all-girls team came from his daughter Dana. Last fall, she saw some sports—mainly those dominated by boys—were starting back up while others were canceled due to the pandemic. “My daughter came up to me and goes, ‘Wait a second. This isn’t fair. There is nothing for girls. It is all boys sports right now,’” Damoulakis recalls. “She looked at me and is like, ‘Can girls play football?’ I said, ‘Dana, you give me a group of 10 girls. You will have an all-girls football team.’”
After texting and reaching out to friends on social media, Dana found 10 girls, including herself, for their team, the Ravens. Many are athletes who have played basketball, lacrosse and other sports over the years. However, only one had ever played flag football competitively before.
Parents began calling Damoulakis to ask if he was certain he wanted to coach this group. Many of the teams they would play were made up of all boys and had been playing together for a long time. “I said, ‘I’ve got this. Let’s do this.’”
Trusting the dream
Frederick County Parks and Recreation supervisor Keith Tapley says that Damoulakis approached him about forming the all-girls team. The county traditionally divides players into teams but tries to honor buddy requests so that friends may be together. Due to the unique situation, the county agreed to the team formation because Damoulakis has a longstanding relationship with the league and has won multiple sportsmanship awards through the county for his coaching.
“Our main concern was safety, but we respected Nick so much. His assistant coach Dave Sherwood has also been a longtime coach in our league. We left it up to them and took their recommendation that it was going to be a safe situation for these girls,” he says.
Their first team gathering was at the office of Orases, Damoulakis’s custom software company. He gathered the girls in a conference room and explained the rules and strategy of the game. “I didn’t even let the girls on the field until they knew the rules,” he says. On their first day of practice, the girls learned the field, including what was in and what was out, as well as watched some other teams practice, including his son’s team. “Those boys would run plays and let the girls watch and say, ‘This is what we are doing.’ They were really cool about it.”
They also held a scrimmage against Damoulakis’s team of boys. “I had to get the fear (out) of ‘Hey. We are playing boys,’” he says. “I had them go against the biggest kids possible. The boys were good with them. They helped them, and that helped boost their confidence in the game.” The practices, held two times per week, were moved to Damoulakis’s backyard so that the girls could practice without feeling intimidated by other teams.
At their first game, the girls scored on their first play and were winning for a majority of the game. They ended up losing by six points. “The (other) team was like ‘Whoa. Wait a second. This is real. These girls are not playing around,’” Damoulakis says.
They lost the next game by six points as well, but both times, the all-boys teams told the girls how impressive they played in their rookie season.
After fine tuning and getting some more confidence, the team won their third game and ended with a winning season. The team even had no penalties called against them.
Respecting girls in the sport
Dana Damoulakis had only ever played football on the beach with her family before the season. She wanted to play the sport because others thought that flag football was only for boys. “Whenever someone might think of football, they think of a boys sport, but I feel like we made them now think of it as a girls sport too,” she says.
Her favorite memory from the season came when a younger girl stopped her before a game to tell her the team was awesome and how amazing it was to have an all-girls team. “It just felt really good,” she recalls.
Tapley was surprised to hear how well the team did, but he wasn’t shocked. “If anyone could do it, it would be Nick and Dave (as coaches),” he says. “Everything that our league is about, they encompass that. We are proud of them.”
As Damoulakis and his team prepare for the spring season, he reflects back on what they learned in the fall. “They built a new sense of respect for themselves and what it means to be a strong female in today’s world,” he says. “Also I think they learned it is OK to do something different and be a leader. When they asked other girls to join, a lot of (these girls) made fun of them. ‘You guys are going to get crushed. I don’t want to be embarrassed with you.’ That is some of the texts they would get back. This is a group of 10 girls that said, ‘No. We will be all right.’”