Clippers Impress During Inaugural Girls’ Flag Football Season

The Xaverian H.S. girls’ varsity flag football team enjoyed a successful first-ever season on the gridiron. (Photos: courtesy Xaverian H.S.)

History was made this spring at Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, as the school rolled out its first-ever varsity and junior varsity girls’ flag football squads.

Flag football’s popularity in the New York City area and beyond has been increasing steadily over the years. In fact, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics now offers the sport, and the International Olympic Committee approved flag football starting with the 2028 Summer Games.

With the inception of the program, Xaverian is the first Catholic high school in the Diocese of Brooklyn to start up girls’ flag football teams.

Recently, there had been interest among student-athletes at Xaverian to bring flag football into the school’s spring sports offerings for girls. However, identifying a coach seemed to be a major barrier.

That is until this past fall, when Victoria Burgarella — a first-year physical education and health teacher with multiple years of experience coaching flag football — emerged as the perfect choice to lead the budding program.

Together with assistant coaches Graig Arne and Anthony Bianchi, Burgarella set out to further drum up interest in the potential new sport. The school hosted flag football clinics in the fall at the Shore Road athletic complex, and to the coaches’ delight, more than 130 student-athletes from all four grades took part.

This led to the official formation of the Clippers’ varsity and junior varsity teams, with Burgarella, Arne, and Bianchi serving as the coaches for both. The inaugural junior varsity squad featured 26 girls, while the varsity team suited up 28.

Expectations were understandably minimal heading into the first season. Between both levels, the vast majority of student-athletes had never played organized competitive flag football before, so the early days of practice featured simply learning the fundamentals of the game.

While the junior varsity team began laying the groundwork for the program’s future growth, the varsity team hit the gridiron running. The players picked up the game quickly, which soon shifted expectations — even though they were still on the learning curve.

“It was good to have this foundational year to get us set for the future,” said Burgarella, who also coaches cheerleading at Xaverian. “Seeing some early success pushed us to work harder and excel throughout the season.”

In the first game in program history, Xaverian defeated Cathedral Academy, Manhattan. Game after game, the team continuously improved, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Led by senior quarterback Justina Fedeli and a talented supporting cast, the Clippers finished the regular season 8-2 to capture their division title and earn the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.

The CHSAA’s girls’ flag football league has two divisions. Xaverian played in the north division with schools from Manhattan and Westchester, while four Staten Island schools made up the south division.

In the quarterfinals, the Clippers trounced Notre Dame Academy, Staten Island, 45-13, setting up a rematch with Moore Catholic H.S., Staten Island. Xaverian bested Moore during the regular season, but this time, it was the Staten Islanders who emerged victorious.

“In the first year as a flag football team, it’s such a great accomplishment making it to the semifinals when we were not expecting this much,” said Giuliana Bentivegna, a freshman wide receiver and cornerback. “It was an amazing feeling to get to where we got.”

In just a short two-month season, the Clippers varsity squad went from merely trying to learn a new sport to competing valiantly in the league’s semifinals. That’s quite the impressive start for a brand new high school sports program.

“We set the bar high for what the expectations are for the coming years,” Burgarella said. “There’s already plenty of chatter among new girls who want to try out next year.

“It was an exciting first season for sure.”