TAMPA — Jaylen Stasio was sitting in Spanish class Tuesday morning when the clock hit 10 a.m.
Immediately, her phone started imploding with notifications. She had been holding onto a secret for nearly two months and now the world could know it, too.
Stasio, her Robinson flag football teammates and Alonso’s flag football team were featured in a national Nike commercial highlighting the sport. Nike and the NFL announced Tuesday they are working together to grow flag football throughout the country via a $5 million grant.
The teams shot the commercial Jan. 10 for nearly 12 hours on Alonso’s field, only a month or so after they were approached with the opportunity. Everyone involved in the shoot took a rapid COVID-19 test for safety.
The teams played through the colder weather for scenes that took about an hour to film but maybe lasted three seconds or so in the spot. It didn’t matter, however, because the experience was one they’ll never forget.
“Seeing the end product made it all worth it,” said Stasio, a 16-year-old junior captain at Robinson.
Isansa Bonga, a junior captain at Alonso, said this week might be the best week of her life. It’s not every day that you get asked to play in a Nike national commercial as a high school student-athletes. And a bonus? She did the commercial’s voice over.
Before the shoot, Bonga and others auditioned for the starring role by recording videos at home of them reading the script in different tones and speeds. A few days later, she was selected.
On the day of the shoot, Bonga went into a classroom with producers to record the narration. It took about 45 minutes and more takes than she could count.
“It was so worth it, and so amazing,” said Bonga, 17. “It was one of the greatest, maybe the greatest experience I’ve ever had.”
Both teams got a special preview of the commercial Monday afternoon when Nike hopped on a Zoom call with them. Isansa said she was shaking in excitement as they detailed the production of it and how well the shoot went. But the suspense was getting harder to handle the longer they talked.
“I was excited,” she recalled about the moments after the commercial aired. “I was laughing with all of my teammates.”
While the adrenaline from the national spotlight isn’t going to wane anytime soon, both programs realize it isn’t just about them. It’s about increasing visibility for the sport they love so dearly.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, one million fewer female high school athletes participate in sports than their male counterparts.
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More than 7,600 girls participated in flag football in Florida in 2018-19. And the state has about 300 schools with teams, according to the Florida High School Athletic Association’s 2020-21 district assignments.
Through the grant, each state athletic association that has existing programs — or implements a successful pilot program this year — will receive a one-time payout of up to $100,000 in clothing and accessories as part of the multi-year initiative. For Florida specifically, each high school will have uniforms and sports bras donated from Nike.
The funds will be distributed at the discretion of each state’s athletic or governing interscholastic association. Currently, flag football is sanctioned by state associations only in Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada and New York.
In 2019, Robinson High won its fourth straight flag football title (and fifth in six years), while Alonso repeated as Class 2A champ. The pandemic prevented both from defending their crowns last season.
The commercial is a small way to help grow the sport. Alonso coach Matt Hernandez is looking forward to seeing the ripple effect this campaign makes in the years to come, especially with the NFL and Nike at the helm.
“This is just such a huge push from two gigantic sports entities,” he said. “If this isn’t the peak, I don’t know what the peak is.”
Robinson coach Josh Saunders knows how hard his players work every day and how they capitalize on the opportunities, both small and large. He believes other schools that don’t currently have the sport will seize the chance to join in the fun, too.
“They talk about pioneers and leading the way, and (Nike) is literally using these kids to show other kids that this is possible and you can do it and play flag football,” Saunders said. “You can have that experience, and that’s a big deal to our kids.”
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