November 3, 2016, published in the Orange County Register

Ten-year-old Bea Dolan, a.k.a B Dough, whose nickname honors the pint-sized, yellow “Minions” who squeal “Beeeeeeeee Do,” sprints with all her might up the left side of the field.

Natalie Oca (Natty-O), 9, throws a perfect pass to B Dough, who catches it and scores her first touchdown of the season.

The boys trailing her huff and puff in defeat as the Minnesota Golden Gophers, the only all-girls flag football team in the Garden Grove Friday Night Lights League, take an early lead in a game last week.

B Dough, named vice president of the Student Council at Barker Elementary School earlier that day, unclenched her teeth and jumped up and down in her lime-green cleats, letting out a wide smile.

Riley Clausi (Ri Ri), 9, bear-hugs her, as exuberant as if she herself had been the one to score. Danielle Alvarez (Danger), 10, pops out her purple mouth guard and screams, shimmying B Dough’s shoulders.

The Gopher faithful – the parents, grandparents, cousins and friends sitting in fold-up chairs along the grassy sidelines, decked in Minnesota maroon and gold – roar as the sky turns blue, red, purple.

The opponents, the boys of the Purdue Boilermakers, are not pleased; more fuel for the Gophers.

“Girls can do anything,” said Quinn Gomez (Go Go), 8, who is B Dough’s cousin.

The Gophers, who also include Jaden Agatep (J Dawg), 9, Kylie Fremgen (Snacks — she loves goldfish and Cheez-its), 10, and Lucy Hendriks (Hendriks), 9, are mostly third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. Six attend Barker Elementary and two attend Patton Elementary in Garden Grove.

Coached by Jeff Clausi, Amber Clausi and Ryan Fremgen, the Gophers are 4-4, having massacred one boy’s team, Michigan, 19-0, earlier this season.

And this is the girls’ first season of playing football. Many play soccer and softball.

“They’re so fierce,” said Shannon Hendriks, Lucy’s mother. “The expressions they make, I don’t see those at home or school. After the first game, we were like, ‘Where are these girls coming from?’ They’re bringing it!”

The girls pull down flags with force. They giggle in timeouts. They rack up interceptions. They play telephone in between double-headers. They “dab” after every huddle. They wear matching maroon bows. They name plays like “celery and ranch” and “puppy.” They wear their uniforms to school every Friday, game day, huddling up before class starts.

They never forget that the only requirement on the team is to have fun.

“Win or lose, these girls still have a smile on their face,” Amber Clausi said. “They’re having the time of their lives.”

Few expected the Gophers, who head to playoffs in November, to dominate the way they do.

“They seem surprised,” J Dawg said of their opponents. “But it’s a lot of hard work.”

Sue Nettleton, grandmother of Go Go and B Dough, and who coincidentally was Amber Clausi’s kindergarten and sixth-grade teacher, sees the dynamic firsthand. She never misses a game.

“The boys we play, they didn’t know what to do with us,” Nettleton said. “Some of their coaches are like, ‘Don’t you dare let these girls beat you. You’ll run laps next week if they beat you!’”

The girls have come a long way. At the beginning of the season, they couldn’t pull down the flags. They didn’t know how to run routes or catch the ball.

Now, they are snatching, catching, sprinting and glowing. They say to each other in timeouts: “Throw the ball to me! Throw it to me!” Once, Danger came into the huddle and screamed: “I LOVE FOOTBALL!!!!!”

“You can see their confidence growing,” Amber Clausi said. “Every week they’re improving on some skill. Every week they are seeing, ‘I can pull the flag. I can catch the ball.’ Or, ‘I didn’t get it. Oh well. Now I know for next time. On to the next score, the next problem.’

“They know that, ‘I am going to fall and I am going to get back up again.’”

In the game, the Gophers don’t let up after B Dough’s early touchdown. The team continues to counter Purdue’s every move, at one point tying the game, 18-18.

With less than two minutes into the game, J Dawg takes matters into her own hands. She practically flies down the field — her silver and orange cleats a blur — as the boys, the wind, the fatigue can’t stop her from scoring her third touchdown of the game.

The Gophers eventually win, 30-24. Family and friends line up along the sideline, sticking their hands out for the girls to high-five as they run through.

A final team huddle.

“I don’t have much to say except that I’m super proud,” said Jeff Clausi. “This was one of the top teams in the league. I saw you get all feisty out there, get a little bit of swagger.”

Adds Fremgen, “You never gave up.”

The Gophers bring it in for a cheer as the girls clutch orange-pumpkin, Halloween-themed goodie bags of snacks.

“Just don’t leave until you get another high five,” Jeff Clausi said.


About Mirin Fader

Mirin Fader is a sports writer living in Los Angeles. She can be reached on Twitter @MirinFader.

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