Gardena Serra’s ‘League of Champions’ win previews excitement for girls’ flag football

The Gardena Serra High girls' flag football team celebrates after its "League of Champions" title win.
The Gardena Serra High girls’ flag football team celebrates after its”League of Champions” title win over Long Beach Poly on Sunday afternoon at Redondo Union.
(Luca Evans / Los Angeles Times)
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They screamed. They cried. They embraced.

As a final pass fell incomplete Sunday afternoon, clinching a 19-18 win over Long Beach Poly and the first-ever girls’ championship for Gardena Serra High girls’ flag football, the Cavaliers poured out every drop of emotion from swelling their hearts.

Good luck finding a postgame celebration in any sport that contained as much sheer joy. Some of the girls had trouble catching passes early in the season, Serra coach Monique Adams said, and they turned into lightning-quick athletes within a few months. Some of them are like Serra’s Kaylah Holmes, who grew up roughhousing with her brothers and has been yearning to play football since she was 5 years old.

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It was a beautiful preview of the sheer excitement that girls’ flag football can bring to California high schools this fall — if passed by the CIF at a state federated council meeting Friday.


“All boys said girls can’t do nothing,” said Holmes, who caught the eventual game-winning touchdown. “But we did it. Undefeated.”

Serra emerged victorious from a 16-team field at Redondo Union High in Sunday championships for the “League of Champions,” a local girls’ flag football league sponsored by the Rams and Chargers in its second season. In an ironic twist, they took on Long Beach Poly in the final game, the birth of a new Serra-Poly rivalry after years of iconic battles between the programs in tackle football.

Serra football coach Scott Altenberg, who’d coached the team for a couple of months before handing the reins to Adams — the coach for pro women’s tackle team Los Angeles Legends — offered pointers to the Cavaliers from the sidelines. Poly coach Stephen Barbee was coaching the Jackrabbits from the opposite sideline. It was Altenberg vs. Barbee again in a different context.

“It’s like no matter what we do — we could be playing badminton,” Altenberg said of the Serra-Poly showdown. “We’re made to be rivals.”

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The Cavaliers trailed at halftime, players huddling, some crying.

“We can’t fight with tears in our eyes!” one girl shouted.

They mounted a furious comeback, Holmes, who also plays basketball, securing a short pass in the end zone to put Serra up for good with a minute left.

Paula Hart Rodas, president of the Southern Section’s council, has largely led the push for girls’ flag football to be instituted at the high school level. In December 2021, she remembered presenting Gardena Serra with the CIF Southern California regional trophy after a tight win over Long Beach Poly. And Sunday afternoon at Redondo, she watched another branch of the rivalry grow.


“How crazy is it, in our first little Super Bowl, that it’s Poly-Serra … that’s what it’s about,” Rodas said.