Marathon flag footballers publicize their presence nationally.
Over the weekend of May 21, the Marathon Mermaids brought their talents to Philadelphia to compete against some of the best teams in the Flag Football Life (FFL) statewide tournament, the Beast of the East.
Led by Rudy Fernandez and Sean Sayer, the nine-girl team of first through fifth graders came together shortly after City of Marathon’s Rec League season.
“I used to live in Miami and ran a flag football program for 17 years. We came here and I had no intention of becoming a coach… but I saw the potential between the two teams. … Sean and I were having lunch one day and we were like, ‘Why don’t we combine the teams and try and maybe do something special?’”
The mermaids faced a tough challenge in their inaugural competitions. Out of 196 teams in the tournament, their first two games were against the nation’s first- and second-place teams in the 10-U division. Despite opening with two losses, the unranked team from a tiny island proved they belonged in their first taste of tournament competition by falling just a point behind the top-ranked team.
When the Mermaids found themselves in the Silver Bracket after a split among their division’s teams, they refused to lose again, ran through the bracket en route to a championship and defeated the fourth-placed Staten Island Giants with a 7–0 shutout win included.
“It was their first action and they kind of got thrown into the fire,” Fernandez said. “I called the tournament director and said, ‘Give us the toughest teams possible. I want to see where we are, I don’t care if we’re from a small island.’ To be the best you have to beat the best.”
Although any team can register for Beast of the East, the team’s group victory earned them an invite to the FFL National Championship in January 2023 in Tampa. According to a text sent to Fernandez by the tournament director, the Mermaids should crack the top 10 when the national rankings are released next week.
“The most important thing for us was to teach the game properly,” said Fernandez. “And that really happened. The girls played really well and they played very hard and focused from start to finish.”
“We took our friendship and all of our tenacious hard work and stitched it together into a strong, confident, feisty and determined feeling in our minds that helped us win,” said fourth-grade quarterback Sutton Sayer. “Our team has proven that children can dream big from a small island.”
“It was incredible,” said Landry Sayer, the youngest – but intrepid – member of the team. “I can’t wait until next year and will miss being with my team.”
Fernandez’s son, Ryan, had similar success at the tournament. The Marathon Middle School student, who competed with his old Miami team, took home a Gold Bracket championship in the boys’ 11 U division.
The Marathon Mermaids would like to thank their sponsor, Marathon’s eponymous charter company, as well as Mike Puto, who used funds from the Katharine S. Gradick Girls Athletic Trust to sponsor the team’s transportation to Philadelphia.