The Dennis Women’s Flag Football League offers competition, camaraderie, and some early morning exercise on the gridiron

Rise and Shine Its Game Time, November/December Cape Cod Life | capecodlife.com

Photography by Dan Cutrona

When watching members of the Dennis Women’s Flag Football League (DWFFL) in action, the classic Irving Berlin song “Anything You Can Do [I Can Do Better]” immediately comes to mind. “When I was growing up, women could ‘only’ play soccer, softball, or field hockey,” says Ashling Sullivan, a Cape Cod-based social worker who moonlights as the league’s co-commissioner. “Football was always considered a boys’ sport, so having a flag football league for women holds a lot of appeal for our players.  . . .  It’s a neat dynamic when people ask, ‘So you play football?’”

Sullivan says many of the women who participate in the league are as tough as nails, and can be as competitive as the guys in any men’s football league. Case in point: One season, when Sullivan was racing toward the end zone for Team Chaos, Jojo Bednark’s fierce competitive nature kicked into overdrive (Bednark was co-captain of the opposing squad, sponsored by Buncey’s Pizza & Sport Café of South Dennis).

“Some of us are super-competitive, so accidents happen,” says a chuckling Sullivan, who has been helping to run the league since 2007. “When I was running for a touchdown, Jojo decided that she didn’t want me to go any further. She tried to grab my flag, but grabbed ahold of my shirt and hung on, instead—a total penalty.”

While between the lines, many members of this five-team flag football league—which plays its games on Sunday mornings in  the fall at the Johnny Kelley Recreation Area in South Dennis—are fierce competitors, but all are required to have short memories.

“During a game, you’ll go up for a ball and you might bump someone or take a bruise and get in each other’s face a little,” admits eight-year veteran Bednark, whose last name is just a vowel shy of NFL Hall of Famer Chuck “Concrete Charlie” Bednarik’s. “But an hour-and-a-half later, we’re enjoying beers at Buncey’s or watching a Pats’ game at someone’s house.”

Hollie Handrahan, a local resort manager and the league’s co-commissioner for the past five years, agrees, noting “once we shake hands after a game, there’s rarely been bad blood between players. Sportsmanship is very important to the league.”

Longtime league referee Brian Raneo commented on the difference he has observed between flag football leagues of different genders. “The women are competitive,” he says, “but they don’t think they should be playing in Foxboro, like a lot of men do. Guys play for stats and how many points they can score, but the women are there to have fun. It’s a totally different mindset.”