On January 23, 2024, the U of T Women’s Flag Football Team (UTWFF) announced their new status as a U of T Sports & Recreation Team. 

Instead of aiming to tackle the ball carrier, as in gridiron football, flag football players tuck a ‘flag’ into their uniform waistband that opponents try to pull out to finish the play. Flag football is considered to be a safer variation of football, and also makes for a great introduction to football in general. 

With this recognition, the team is excited for their chance at a new beginning and all the new opportunities that this has opened up to them, including access to more facilities.

A decade-long fight 

Going into fall 2023, the UTWFF had two main goals: to become a recognized Sports and Recreation team — or to get “Varsity status” — and to win championships. The team had been trying to become a recognized team for over a decade as they felt they’d benefit by receiving more support from the university to sustain their program. 

When under the club designation, the UTWFF was restricted from using facilities affiliated with U of T. “This affects our team’s practice spaces as we are not able to book practice times on campus,” Subecca Vasanthakumaran, an import linebacker and wide receiver on the team, explained in an interview with The Varsity, before the announcement. “Our team [resorts] to external field spaces far away from campus making it difficult for practices and tryouts to be accessible.” 

Getting recognized as a Sports and Recreation team would also allow for paid coaches rather than volunteer coaches, and accessible physiotherapy. “We have high-calibre athletes that are not getting the recognition they deserve,” Julie Van, the team’s co-head coach, explained. 

After receiving their well deserved recognition from U of T, the team is finally being valued — along with the magnificent community they’ve created. 

“This will be a huge stepping stone,” said Madeleine Chu, UTWFF’s media relations officer, right guard, and center. “[It will] allow our team to evolve into something even greater than as we stand right now.”

More than jersey numbers 

The family-like connection that the UTWFF has fostered is extremely evident. “My favourite thing about the team is the people,” Meaghan Cooper, UTWFF’s co-president and quarterback, said. “We are basically one big family and… [we] are so lucky to have amazing coaches that dedicate so much of their time for us, and this is a team where you can meet some of your closest friends.” 

The UTWFF celebrates their success in fall 2023’s 5s season. COURTESY OF UOFT WOMENS FLAG FOOTBALL TEAM UTWFF

The team’s strong sense of team camaraderie drives team success. “It’s rare that a practice goes by and no one makes plans to go out to eat or chill with other members,” Janielle Palmer, UTWFF’s former offensive guard, explained. “[We are] a community of friends who happen to also play football together, instead of a group of players who don’t know anything more than each other’s jersey number.” 

Coaches make all the difference 

Van is the team’s role model. “She believes in us, as people, as players, and as a team, and it makes me want to put in the work to show her how much I appreciate her dedication to this team, this sport, and the flag community,” said Daniella Chung, UTWFF’s financial officer, defensive tackle, and receiver. 

Van explained that she had many great mentors, such as her coaches, Ross Asaro and Joe Cappiello, and her PhD supervisor, James Scholey. “I want my athletes to feel safe and comfortable in exploring new concepts… and roles… [to empower] them to be leaders and stewards of the game, and hopefully future [UTWFF] coaches,” Van said. 

Team triumphs 

The team is driven, passionate, and has incredible potential. The team placed eighth overall and highest from Ontario during the Intercollegiate 5s National Championships in Montréal last May. 5v5 style, or ‘5s,’ is the most common flag football style. It is completely non-contact with no linemen. 

“We played against some top Montréal teams and it showed us how good we could be, and that what we have here at U of T, on this team, is something special,” Chung explained. “Montréal was just the first step, and I’m so excited to see how much further we can go this year.” 

The team is striving to win the Ontario Women’s Intercollegiate Football Association 5v5 Provincial Title and compete at the Canadian National Collegiate Flag Football Championship for the third year consecutively. They also have other goals. “Looking ahead, many of our all-star athletes from UTWFF have their sights set on competing for Team Canada at the 2028 Olympic Games in LA,” explained Chu. 

The team is determined to achieve their goals. COURTESY OF UOFT WOMENS FLAG FOOTBALL TEAM UTWFF

Moving forward

As successful as the team is, they welcome and encourage new players to join their community. “Our team is filled with so many diverse people, from first-year students to PhDs; from players new to the sport to experienced vets; from quarterbacks to linemen,” Surpriya Vasanthakumaran, UTWFF’s co-president and receiver, said. “There is a spot for anyone on our team and that is what makes it so fun.”

If you are interested in joining the UTWFF, look out for the team’s open practices and events posted on their Instagram: @uoftflagfootball.