Middle school athlete helps lead charge to make flag football recognized sport

Quarterback Gracianna Peck-Headley in Jacksonville Beach will continue flag football career in high school

Fletcher Middle School football player Gracianna Peck-Headley (WJXT)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When you look at the Fletcher Middle School football team in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, one part of its offense is unique: Its backup quarterback is Gracianna Peck-Headley.

She is one of the few girls to play tackle football around the state.

“I don’t know it just kind of sparked,” Headley said when asked why she chose to play tackle football. “It always been like a little interest in it since like the (Jacksonville Jaguars) games when I was younger and I just really wanted to play.”

Peck-Headley is familiar with the sport. She has played intramural flag football since she was 7 years old. She also joined the Fletcher Middle School team in its inaugural season last year.

After watching her older brother play for the Fletcher High School football team, she decided she wanted to suit up as well.

“Hurt a little bit, but once you get used to it, it doesn’t hurt that bad,” Peck-Headley said when asked about getting tackled for the first time. “I remember the first time in-game that I got hit. I got put in as quarterback and it was a bad snap on the ground and I tried to recover it and two people came across.”

Peck-Headley will become a Mandarin Mustangs student next year when she begins high school. She is hanging up her pads, for flags.

As she ends her tackle football career at Fletcher Middle School, she has one final thing she would like to say to her team: “I love them,” Peck-Headley said. “They were probably some of the best teammates I’ve ever had. Made tackle football the best experience.”

While Peck-Headley moves on to high school, she wants every middle school student with a dream to play flag football, to have the opportunity to do so. She is part of an initiative with her principal Joe McKenzie and a few other Duval County middle schools to make flag football an officially recognized sport at that level.

“I feel like it’s getting really big especially with it going to the Olympics,” Peck-Headley said. “I’ve met many people that just have an interest in it, but they don’t really have the money to go play in a league. So I think a school team would be better for those kind of people.”

“Flag football gives girls an opportunity to be on the field, compete at a high level,” McKenzie said. “It’s happening at high schools. It’s happening in college. It’s now happening in the Olympics. It’s happening in I9. It’s happening in leagues. Why is it not happening in middle schools? I think this is a great opportunity.”

Next year 10 Duval County middle school teams have added flag football, but to make it an official sport there are still obstacles.

“Making sure every school has the facilities, the time, the finances, all of that,” McKenzie said. “That’s what makes the difference between a district-wide sport in middle school versus an intramural sport at various middle schools.”

About the Author

Alessandra Pontbriand joined WJXT4 as a sports anchor and reporter in May 2023. She is excited to join the extremely talented sports team and have the opportunity to tell stories across Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia from local high schools, universities, and pro teams!

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