Jupiter High principal ends 50-year tradition of girls tackle ball; girls fighting back

See an updated version of this story, complete with comments from Principal Frank and students at the board meeting, here.

Also read: Board vice chair sympathetic to Jupiter plea for tackle powder-puff. 


Should two squads of high school girls be permitted to strap on full pads and helmet, stomp out onto the gridiron and go at it in a game of just-like-the-boys tackle football?

For 50 years,  as spring rolled around at Jupiter High School, the answer has been a resounding, “Yes.”

The annual junior v. senior Powder Puff game has become a rite of passage, a tradition, and, frankly a matter of long-standing dinner-table grudges that draws hundreds to the school’s football field each May and raises several thousand dollars for the boys’ team in the process.

And in recent years, it has been noted as the last tackle girls Powder Puff game standing across the nation.

Until this month, when Principal Dan Frank announced he was pulling the plug in the name of safety. In an explanation posted to Twitter last week, Frank wrote:

“Student safety is my first priority.  After much deliberation and consideration, I feel it is necessary to change the annual powder puff football game from a tackle football game to a flag football game. Our goal with this change is to maintain the highest standards of student safety and avoid subjecting students to an activity with the potential for a high risk of injury. ”

The statement goes on to detail concerns about the “narrow window of time” the girls have to practice and “the limited availability” of properly fitted equipment.

Those arguments don’t hold Gatorade with the students, or many of their parents, who have taken to Change.org seeking to save the game with an online appeal and petition to the Palm Beach County School Board and Superintendent Robert Avossa.

Parent Lori Walsh, whose husband and his sister maintain one of those dinner-table rivalries dating back to their days at Jupiter High, says her daughter Caitlin and would-be teammates have plenty of protective gear fitted to accommodate their smaller frames.

Lori Walsh, daughter Caitlin after last year's powderpuff. She's standing with brother Blake, a Dwyer football player, and dad Ruck Walsh.
Lori Walsh, daughter Caitlin after last year’s powderpuff. She’s standing with brother Blake, a Dwyer football player, and dad Ruck Walsh.

They practice under the eyes of both their coaches from the boys varsity team  as well as real adult coaches.

“There haven’t been any documented injuries,” said Walsh, who said offers of flag football or a kickball game haven’t been embraced and came too late – just weeks before the May 6 game was scheduled. (Former head football coach and athletic director Charlie Persson, however, recalls a couple of injuries in his more than 30 years in charge of the game. Click here to see what more he had to say in the updated version of this story. )

As of Wednesday morning, their plea had accumulated 2,839 signatures, including a woman who says she was one of the game’s founding students in 1966.

Eileen Heideman wrote:”i (sic) was one of 6 students that came up with the idea of a girl’s powderpuff football game. We were sophomores at the time and trying to come up with a fundraiser to help pay for our future prom. It was so well received by students, faculty and the entire town that it took wings.”

Heideman laments that “political correctness” can take down such a “time-honored” tradition.

Of course, concerns about safety and football for all of its players – boys and men – have gained a high profile.They have been the basis for an Academy Award nominated movie and the subject of lawsuits, at both the professional and high school level.

Recognizing the long-term damage concussions from football can do, the country’s premier health authorities at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control have launched an educational campaign, HEADS UP, for youth sports. And in 2012, Pop Warner changed its rules to limit contact during practices “in light of developing concussion research”.

But what does that mean for a couple dozen girls who aim to play one game on May 6?

Parents are expected to make an argument at tonight’s school board meeting that it shouldn’t mean the end of a tradition.

The board meeting:

When: 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, 2016.

Where: 3300 Forest Hill Blvd. WPB, board meeting room

Note: Parents and students can speak to non-agenda items – this is such an item. The board can listen, but cannot vote on any item not already on the agenda.





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