As part of Dunellen High School’s annual Spirit Week, girls of the Junior and Senior classes geared up for a the annual Powder Puff football game on November 22nd. Spectating students and citizens gathered at the Columbia Park field to cheer on their respective classes.
Two teams, one school. The yearly Powder Puff match is but one of many activities organized for Spirit Week, integrated to raise enthusiasm among students. The event lasted shorter than a typical football game, with only 10 minutes per quarter as compared to the ordinary 15. It followed flag football rules, allowing for a less demanding, less stressful evening for players and audience members. Each team had 9 players on the field at one time instead of a traditional 11.
The Senior athletes took home the victory with a decisive score of 8 to 6. On the Junior team, Alison McGrath ran the most yards with the ball, and Skylin Cabrera put up an excellent defense. The Seniors strode ahead with an impressive touchdown by Crystal Harmon and Alex Reidy running a stellar offense down the field. The victory was later acknowledged at the following day’s pep rally.
Starting in early October, student coaches trained the girls who would be competing. Among them were Anthony Buccino, Jason Watung, Alain Diaz, and Billy Strojek. The boys were tasked with creating plays and conditioning the girls into memorizing those plays in time for game day.
Both coaches and athletes agreed that at the heart of this event are good spirits and a sense of family. “All in all, I hope the goal is that everyone has fun,” stated Anthony Buccino. Competitors could afford to be more relaxed and casual while playing against friends and peers. While the girls played hard, there was also a sense of levity, what with students as coaches and less anxiety than a normal football season.
Buccino pointed out a unanimous notion of identity that results from organizing this type - and any other type - of sport: “[Powder Puff] really helps us for unity. It got us closer, especially all those hours at practice.”
The students’ bond - with the coach and with teammates - to form trust and respect. Anthony claimed this bond to carry over into school, turning a class into more of a ‘family’. Having tighter-knit classes creates higher-performing and productive classes. According to Dave DeNapoli, coach of the Dunellen Destroyers, Spirit Week and the associated Powder Puff game gauge just how strong those alliances are: “You can see certain classes are enthusiastic. You can see certain classes are tighter, closer. You can see classes that aren’t as tight, or closer to each other, and maybe the enthusiasm isn't there.”
Dunellen has upheld the tradition of Powder Puff for over a decade now. According to Mr. Dave DeNapoli, “The park’s ten years old, so it’s probably about fifteen years since we started it up.” Even so, the sport dates back to 1945. Women in Eastern State Teachers College in South Dakota organized the first ever women’s football team. The university was depleted of its men by World War II, and looked for innovative ways to liven up the school. Being so out of the ordinary, Powder Puff teams would not catch on with High Schools, as well as earn its name, until 1972 in an effort to raise female participation in athletics. The title derives from the beauty product that girls would supposedly re-apply between plays.
Dunellen held its first few Powder Puff games in Greenbrook, before Columbia Park was completely constructed. In the debut game, Juniors overpowered seniors in a reportedly rough game. Experienced coaches and teachers such as DeNapoli have witnessed Dunellen’s history with Powder Puff from its origins.