By Jean DePlacido Correspondent
The Salem News
---- — They call themselves the “Angry Birds,” and with their eye black, the all-girl Beverly Falcons flag football team is a formidable bunch to contend with.
The 10 sixth- and seventh-graders more than hold their own against the all-boy teams they play each week in the North Shore Flag Football League. The Falcons are 5-1 this season and have qualified for the top bracket in the playoffs this Sunday. Since they began playing as a team a year ago, they are an amazing 17-3 between the fall and spring seasons.
It all began when 10-year-old Abbey Otterbein told her parents she wanted to play flag football. They tried to discourage their daughter, but she insisted.
“She didn’t know anybody on the all-boys team, and we really didn’t think she was going to have much fun,” said her dad, Leo Otterbein, who coaches the team with two other fathers, Scott Alexander and Bernie Stavis. “But she loved it right from the start, and it didn’t take long to see she was also very good.
“I thought she’d enjoy playing with some of her friends who were into other sports, so I sent out emails. We got a very good response, started up last fall, and the girls caught on right away. There are 14 teams in the league, and we wound up with a 5-1 record, going all the way to the playoff semifinals.”
Shelby Stavis, daughter of former Beverly High football captain Bernie Stavis, is the Falcons’ outstanding quarterback. Lucy Smallman and Abbey Otterbein are the wide receivers, while Sabrina Beaudry is the running back and Brooke Baekey is the center.
On defense, the linebacker is Claudia Brock, corners are Kiely Tenhope and Emily Pratt, and safeties are Jackie Swanick and Kelly Alexander.
“The girls take it very seriously, and there is great camaraderie on the team,” Otterbein said. “They’re all good athletes, and I have to say they are rather intimidating.”
The Falcons report faithfully to practice each Saturday at Centerville School and love playing their games on the new turf field at Beverly High.
“Last spring, we were invited to go to an all-star tournament at the University of Connecticut, where there were teams from all over the country and even a couple from Mexico,” Otterbein said. “They came from many different states, and we were able to keep up with all of them even though we didn’t win all the games.
In Beverly, there are A, B and C brackets for playoffs in flag football, and Otterbein proudly says the Falcons earned a spot in the top bracket in each of their first two seasons.
“Our girls have 12 different plays, and they know the terminology,” Otterbein said. “I think flag football is a wonderful experience for them, and it’s the only way they could have the opportunity to play.”
If the Falcons can go all the way in the playoffs, they’ll finish right before Thanksgiving. North Shore Flag Football League founder Austin Bradshaw takes the Super Bowl winners from each town and matches them up with champs from other cities.
“We’d love to be one of those teams,” said Otterbein, who has four daughters active in sports.
“A couple of our girls will turn 13 in the spring, and there is no older bracket in Beverly, so we might have to go to another city to keep playing. Hamilton-Wenham has a new flag league and invited us to join this fall. We decided to stay where we are, but they’re one possibility for the future.
“Right now, we’re not thinking about that,” he added. “This is a fun team to coach, and we’re having a great time.”