By Stacee Sledge
In fact, watching our local flag football teams is the closest thing you can get – outside of the Bellingham Bulldogs’ season, that is – to NFL or college ball. It’s played with an offensive line, eight on eight, and with downfield extended-arm blocking.
Bellingham’s Matthew Santos is the organizer of the North End Flag Football Group, which sets up weekly flag football games for adult males in Whatcom County.
“I started this group almost a year ago when I moved back to Whatcom County,” Santos says of his involvement with the sport. “I had been playing flag football weekly in the Seattle area for several years and wanted to continue to do so up here.”
Santos likes that he can play the sport on the weekend – yet still be able to go to work on Monday without hobbling. “We play a contact-style flag football and it’s very competitive,” he says. “But everyone wants to stay healthy and be able to play again the next week.”
His team, King in the North, will participate in the Stephen Faoro Battle at the Border Flag Football Tournament, March 21 and 22 at Pioneer Park in Ferndale, to help raise money for the families of two area players who recently passed away: Stephen Faoro and Sean Hicks.
Two other Bellingham teams – the Bellingham Bomb Squad (made up of players from the Bellingham Bulldogs, on which Faoro and Hicks both played) and the Bellingham Expendables – will join 13 other Pacific Northwest and British Columbia squads.
Santos knew and had played against Sean Hicks; he also has teammates who were friends and played with Stephen Faoro. “They were excited to compete in this tournament and help donate to his family,” Santos says.
“Sean had been out to play with the North End Flag Football Group several times. He was a really good dude,” Santos continues. “He was competitive and displayed amazing sportsmanship. He obviously loved the game and was willing to share his passion and knowledge with younger players.”
When Santos heard about plans for the fundraising tournament, he reached out to Tournament Director Scott Beadell, to register his team. He didn’t realize he would soon be part of the group organizing the event.
Beadell founded the Western Canadian Flag Football Championships and knew Stephen Faoro.
“Stephen was probably the best player in our Vancouver flag football league. He played for a team in our league, the Vancouver Villains, which was the first team I played for, and was the WCFFC 2014 Defensive Line MVP,” says Beadell. “He also played tackle ball with the Bellingham Bulldogs and was linebacker on their 2013 Pacific Football League Championship team.”
Sean Hicks was also a linebacker for the Bulldogs; he and Stephen were good friends.
Beadell came up with the idea for the fundraising tournament in December, and reached out to Bulldogs general manager Don Oneida to help make it happen.
“We decided Bellingham would be the perfect place to have this tournament, since that’s where Stephen played his tackle ball,” says Beadell. They didn’t foresee the amount of scrambling that would be necessary to secure a field.
“Matthew was amazing,” says Beadell. “He talked to Ferndale’s mayor and he was a big reason we eventually got the Pioneer Park field. We owe a lot to him – and are also grateful to Ferndale.”
Tournament attendance is free and open to the public. “We’re asking for donations from the teams,” says Beadell. The event will also raise money through concessions and a silent auction, with items donated from NFL players that include the Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, Houston Oilers, and New York Jets. The BC Lions have also donated items.
Both Santos and Beadell will be on the field for the Stephen Faoro Battle at the Border Flag Football Tournament.
“I’m older, I’m 47,” Beadell says with a laugh, “but I’ll be playing for the Crimson Tide, out of Vancouver. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
For anyone unsure what to expect from flag football, Beadell is emphatic: Come and see it for yourself. “It’s serious football, not just a bunch of guys running around with flags on,” he says. “It’s a really exciting game to watch.”
Santos agrees and looks forward to competing against other Northwest teams – he also hopes to help develop enough interest and demand for this to become an annual event. “Folks who come to the tournament will be entertained,” he says. “They’ll get to watch guys who love playing football do some great things on the field.”
For those looking for an additional way to help, a Go Fund Me campaign is helping to raise money for Sean Hicks’ wife and young daughter.
Registered teams for the 2015 Stephen Faoro International Flag Football Tournament include:
- Vancouver Cobras
- Vancouver Moosesepticons
- Vancouver Villains
- Setina Nation
- Seattle Bad Dogs
- Spokane Outlaws
- Seattle Chiefs
- Medford Dynasty
- Vancouver Crimson Tide
- Vancouver Razorbacks
- Prince George Young Guns
- Bellingham Bomb Squad
- Yakima Grid Iron Gang
- Bellingham Expendables
- Bellingham King in the North