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Break out the gloves and eye black

by FRITZ NEIGHBOR
Daily Inter Lake | March 31, 2022 8:36 PM

A dozen years as a head football coach in California and another 18 as an assistant at the high school and college level have prepared Mark Kessler for this moment.

Girls flag football is coming to Montana this August.

It sounds like we’re kidding, but we’re not, and Kessler is serious about what he expects to happen on the field for Glacier High.

“I’m not going to lie to you,” he said last week. “I wouldn’t coach something if I didn’t want to win.”

Kessler notes that Glacier is one of six schools — Flathead High is another — that have committed to fielding a team in 2022. It was in April of last year that the Montana High School Association announced a pilot flag football program, to gauge interest. A half-dozen teams may not sound like much, but Kessler feels a boom is coming.

“I would expect it to explode,” he says, and points toward Georgia as an example. According to a Georgia Public Broadcasting article, Gwinnett County sponsored flag football in 2019, and ended up with 19 teams. That prompted the Georgia High School Association to sponsor it, and in 2020 — in the midst of a pandemic — there were 91 programs. Last fall there were 189.

Kessler had quite a resume before he moved his family to Kalispell and started teaching health enhancement and coaching at Glacier: At San Ramon Valley in Danville, he helped guide future NFLers JJ Koski and Roy Helu, to name two.

“I’m very proud of the players I had the ability to coach,” he said, and by his count he’s crossed paths with nine Division I quarterbacks and 16 NFL players.

He also fondly recalls an annual Powder Puff flag football game San Ramon Valley sponsored during homecoming week.

“It was probably the most spirited and well-attended event we had all year,” he said. “The entire student body was either participating or watching.

“I knew the girls enjoyed it, but didn’t have that much of an opportunity to play. So when this came about I went to Mark Dennehy (Glacier’s AD) and said, ‘Hey, I’m interested in getting involved.’”

The season will run more or less concurrently with AA and A golf, in that it ends in early October to hopefully avoid the more inclement weather.

“Moving forward, you’d like to see more schools participate and follow the model of your typical sports divisions,” said Kessler, whom Dennehy named head coach last week. “It’s a chance to play a sport that they watch on Friday nights; now they get to play it on Saturdays.”

The response in the halls at Glacier High, he said, has been enthusiastic.

“Just in casual conversation with our students, the girls are excited about it,” he said. “They can’t wait. People don’t realize how big this is going to get.”

Three head coaching stints at California high schools are in the rearview. So is the K-8 coed flag football league he ran in the Golden State. It appears he knows exactly what he’s getting into.

“Any chance a young lady gets to wear eye black and gloves,” Kessler said. “And they’re all in.”

Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 758-4463 or fneighbor@dailyinterlake.com.