October 7th, 2011

Elementary Excellence: Powder Puff Football

Sarah Newell

CSN Staff Writer

Elementary Excellence: Powder Puff Football
photo by Sarah Menefee

Local elementary girls football league is growing

The following feature is a part of a weekly series sponsored by Mercy Academy called "Elementary Excellence" - a set of profiles that will spotlight Louisville area Catholic elementary schools and its athletic programs, teams, traditions and excellence in all aspects of sports. Do you want your school to be featured? Send us your recommendation to editor@catholicsportsnet.com.

Football for girls?

It’s a concept not usually discussed during the Fall, but St. Bernard’s powder puff program for grades 5-8 has caught on quickly as the only league operating for grade school powder puff in the city.

“The very first year of the program, there was a little girl in the fifth grade. She had a sunshine painted on one part of her face and a flower on the other side. She had black paint under her eyes and double pigtails, and she just walked out there thinking she was this monstrous football player,” said Head Organizer of the Powder Puff Program and football coordinator, Mike Sullivan, “It was the cutest thing. Those kind of images bring me back to doing this.”

Sullivan said the teams formed from two girls in the parish with a dream.

“Katie Wells and Megan Cox originally approached me about a grudge match between 7th vs. 8th grades,” said Sullivan. “So, we started it, and it’s something totally different. This is the girls’ way to play football. We’ve had an overwhelming response.”

Now, in the program’s fifth year, the games and participants have grown tremendously.

“I had St. Athanasius and St. Gabriel schools participate with St. Bernard the first year,” said Sullivan. “Now we have six parishes involved. St. Nicholas and Ascension were added this year. Usually when the school joins, they start with seven and eighth grades and then realize they can bring fifth and six graders to join as well.”

For a man with a family and a full time job with GE, Sullivan puts in a lot of hours to help run the powder puff and football programs within the St. Bernard Parish.

“I do it strictly for the kids, and I don’t want to take all the credit. We have a full team. I can’t do this by myself. I have several people step up and ask, ‘What can I do to help?’,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan played football at St. Bernard, and his dad coached him in flag football. Now, with one son attending at St. Bernard whom helps referee, he also receives assistance from his wife in making schedules.

“It’s a lot of work. I have a vision of where I want the program to go,” said Sullivan.

As a no-cut sport, Sullivan aims for any student wanting to participate in powder puff to be able to play.

“You sign up, you play. There is no A or B team. We want to make sure everyone gets as much play time as possible,” said Sullivan. I enjoy watching all the girls have fun. I take it personally because I love it. I make sure everybody plays and has fun.”

While there is not an official championship held within the program as of yet, there will be a “grudge match” at the end of the season for a few grade schools between the seventh and eighth grades.

“This year for the grudge match we are looking to have St. Gabriel, St. Bernard and St. Stephen Martyr participate in it. We have the facilities at St. Bernard to host it, and it gives the teams some bragging rights at school. The guys come out and cheer, and it’s total role reversal. It’s all about fun,” said Sullivan.

With the upper level grades painting up and gathering every Monday night for powder puff games, the issue of bringing younger girls into the mix of play has been discussed.

“We have talked about going younger for play, but I worry about safety. The first thing is safety, and we don’t want unnecessary or rough play,” said Sullivan.

And with each new year of the program, Sullivan says his parish likes to implement new traditions.

“In the past, we have given roses to our eighth graders at St. Bernard and taken pictures of them with their parents. This year, we are doing it for all eight graders involved in the league,” said Sullivan. “Each year, we evolve.”

But as he continues to build upon the school’s unique program, Sullivan says he will continue to do so with the same passion the student athletes have with paint on their faces and hair in ponytails.

Said Sullivan: “At first, people thought this program wouldn’t take off, but the more I thought about it, I thought it could be something really big. I don’t see any limit on this. I have a love for the sports and the kids. Call it silly, but it’s what I love to do.”


Recent Articles