East County Sports

Flag is back, so are wins at Liberty



By Nick Pellegrino
ECS staff writerLEMON GROVE —- An idea dating back to the 1930s is making a strong revival in high school sports.

For schools unable to piece together enough players to form a standard football team, the usual alternative is to field an 8-man football squad. However, Liberty Charter High School, located at the site which was previously home to Palm Avenue Middle School, has turned back the clock.

“For the past 10 years, Liberty has participated in a flag football league,” said Linn Dunton, the director of athletics at Liberty. “Five years ago, I took over the role of overseeing the league, along with my husband, Sewell.”

Flag football has proven to be a great substitute.

“The entire student body gets engaged and comes out to watch, just like in tackle football,” Dunton added.

Flag football has been a staple among grade-school children, usually up to the age of 13, for years. The National Football League even sponsors national flag leagues, which have fast-growing programs in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

However, in San Diego County, varsity-level high school flag football dates back almost a century.

A year after the school opened its doors in 1925, Mountain Empire started a standard tackle football program, but with virtually no success. So in 1932 or 1934 (records varied, indicating both), the Emperors — as Mountain Empire sports teams were known at the time — played a round-robin schedule which included games with Ramona and Julian high schools.

Today, following a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic, flag football is back with Liberty Charter leading the way. The Lions are off to a 2-0 start with a pair of triumphs in less than 48 hours to open West Coast Flag Football League (WCFFL) action.

Over the weekend, the Lions defense posted consecutive shutouts in victories over the CCPAA (Children’s Creative and Performing Arts Academy) Eagles, 13-2, on Thursday (Sept. 23) afternoon, and The Cambridge School Griffins of Rancho Penasquitos, 19-0, on Saturday (Sept. 25) morning.

Other league members feature Bayfront Charter and Calvary Christian Academy (CCA), both in Chula Vista, along with Southern California Yeshiva (SCY), Liberty’s next opponent on Oct. 15, starting at 4 p.m. at Liberty.

High Tech-Chula Vista is slated to re-join the WCFFL in 2022. Other past participants include The Monarch School, King-Chavez, Health Sciences, High Tech-San Diego, and America’s Finest Charter.

Liberty is partnered with Bayfront in hosting the Saturday contests.

But it’s more than simply football which has students and parents excited.

A strong example comes in a growing post-game practice following some ball games.

“In 2016, the ‘5th Quarter’ was started by Sewell Dunton, who was our varsity girls basketball coach; he is now the assistant athletics director,” Dunton said. “It has become a tradition for our football team — we’ve been doing it in the league for a couple of years now.

“These “shout-outs” are more than just a “2-4-6-8, who do we appreciate” chant. Players, parents, and students from both schools get together in a shared experience that can last for 15 minutes or more.

“It really does help everyone go away feeling valued and supported. It is one of the ways we honor the game by respecting our opponents.”

The Liberty athletic program is based on a philosophy based on a book by former NFL defensive tackle Joe Ehrmann, who spent eight seasons with the Baltimore Colts in the 1970s, then two final campaigns with the Detroit Lions to start the ’80s.

“What we do with our athletic program is based upon his book, titled ‘InsideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives,‘” she noted. “He now has a program that partners with NFL teams across the United States to help high school athletic directors build an education-based athletics program that focuses on the character development of athletes.

“It is an excellent program that CIF also supports. They have asked Joe to come and offer complete training for the athletic directors in the county about three times a year.”

For several years CIF has partnered with the Chargers and Raiders to host Joe and the InsideOut Initiative. These training sessions have been invaluable for the Athletic Directors in the county.

“This has been happening now for about four years,” Dunton said. “I have been to all the seminars.  For the past seven years, our coaches and I have been working hard to develop that type of culture and program at our school.”

Some sections in the CIF, including the San Diego and Central sections, have been attempting to phase out 8-man football for several years. For example, Kings Christian High in Lemoore (south of Fresno near NAS Lemoore) played many seasons in the Southern Section.

This makes flag football an “in thing” for schools that would still like to field football but without the expense and chances for severe injury to student-athletes. Plus, contests can be completed in less than 90 minutes.


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