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‘You gave me football’

Assistant coach’s words soothe Oxford flag football team after state-semifinal loss

Oxford Hewitt-Trussville Flag Football

Oxford's Reygan White gets "tackled" by Hewitt-Trussville's April Hooks during the Oxford vs Hewitt-Trussville AHSAA semi-final flag football game. Photo by Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star

TRUSSVILLE — Kathleen Ragains just wanted to tell Oxford’s broken-hearted girls’ flag football team thank you Tuesday.

The eighth-grade math teacher at Oxford Middle School, who volunteered to help coach in the first season of Alabama High School Athletic Association-sanctioned flag football, stopped tears following Yellow Jackets’ 25-0 loss to Hewitt Trussville in the state semifinals.

Eyes opened wide as the well-traveled Air Force brat and Air Force wife told the story of following her dad’s coaching career, after his military service. She watched a lot of football.

Outside of an annual power-puff game, however, there was no football for her.

“You gave me football,” the 53-year-old Ragains said. “I got to be part of a team.”

Let the record reflect that the first-ever AHSAA girls’ flag football team in Calhoun County finished 8-5, one game away from a date at the Super 7. Hewitt Trussville will play Smith Station in the state final.

Alabama high school flag football doesn’t break down by enrollment-based classifications, but Oxford, Class 6A in other sports, stood its ground for a half against the 7A Huskies. Sophomore Ashlyn Burns made sure of it, stopping Audreonia Benson just short of the goal line on fourth down seconds before halftime.

“We worked on our defense the whole week,” Burns said. “We went over their film and tried the best way we could to stop their offense.

“When we were on the line, we were thinking, ‘Get her flag. We’re not letting them score. We’re not giving up, so we just pushed through.”

Oxford ran the final three plays of the half and went into the break deadlocked in a scoreless game.

That changed quickly in the third quarter. Benson caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from DeAdrea Powell to make it 6-0 at 6:36, and Powell’s 1-yard touchdown run on Hewitt Trussville’s next possession made it 12-0.

The Huskies added Powell’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Hannah Dorsett and Benson’s 5-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

Oxford made one last-gasp drive. Gabrielle Lindsey connected with Burns for a 32-yard pass play to Hewitt Trussville’s 24-yard line, but Taylor Davis intercepted Lindsey’s next pass.

“We all played our hearts out to the best of our abilities,” said Reygan White, who split time with Lindsey at quarterback and led the Yellow Jackets with 31 yards rushing. “They were just always right on it. They knew what position to be at all times. They could just read it really good.”

Oxford huddled several minutes after the game to hear words from Wes Brooks, their head coach, then Ragains.

Brooks, also Oxford’s veteran baseball coach, emphasized the journey over the final result, the long practices and relationships that arose from a season. Then he hugged daughter Sawyer, a junior and, he said, the biggest reason why he eagerly volunteered to coach flag football.

Next year, youngest daughter Skylar will be a seventh-grader and old enough to play.

For now, Brooks said, it’s all about remembering “Team 1.”

“Our baseball team is Team 61, and this is Team 1 in flag football for Oxford,” he said. “That was cool, and it’s not about the end result. It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey and the climb.”

Oxford’s team adopted the Alabama softball team’s “mudita” theme, said Burns, who also plays softball for Oxford. The Sanskrit term mudita means being “especially sympathetic or vicarious joy, the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people’s well-being rather than begrudging it.”

Oxford’s journey included a walk down the hallowed team tunnel at the University of Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium last week.

“We rode by there and stopped,” Brooks said. “We had about eight minutes, and I called one of the player personnel guys and said, ‘Man, it would be awesome, if we could walk down the tunnel.

“He opened the gate and let us walk down the tunnel, then we got back on the bus and left.”

For Ragains, the tunnel started years ago. This season brought the light at the end.

“I’ve been here 10 years, and this is the longest I’ve ever been anywhere,” she said. “This is really special for me. Like I said to the girls, this is a gift to me.

“When they first mentioned this stuff, as soon as that email crossed my desk, way back before they even thought that might have it, I was like, ‘I’ll coach.’ I don’t know if I know what I’m doing, but I’ll coach.’”

Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.