Football has become a way of life for Hamilton sophomore Catarina “CC” Maccagnano.
She grew up listening to her father, Mike, share stories of his time at Glendale Community College. She’s been there as he continued his football career in a semi-professional setting with the Phoenix Phantoms, an adult team currently playing in the Arizona Cactus Football League held at Bell Bank Park in Mesa.
She’s become part of the team herself and has absorbed the terminology and everything else that comes with the game.
“With me playing and her being around me and my family, it helps her out and she learned a lot about the game,” Mike said. “It’s a part of our family. It’s something that she has sort of grown up naturally with.
“She works extremely hard. I’m proud of her.”
While football has always been there, so has softball. It was her first love as she played on various club teams in the East Valley and now plays junior varsity at Hamilton.
There was a time where she thought softball would be her future. But an opportunity in football presented itself last year with the Chandler Unified School District launching girls’ flag football programs at all of its schools.
CC was skeptical at first and didn’t join until this season. Her throwing mechanics were so in tune with softball that she struggled with a football. But she continued to work not only with her father but her younger brother, Mike III, who is a freshman at Hamilton. She also worked with head flag football coach Matt Stone.
It took some convincing from Stone, but CC eventually gave in and went out for the team. It’s now opened a new realm of possibilities as the sport continues to grow.
“It took a little convincing but now I’m here and I love it,” CC said. “Even though I’m going back and forth (with softball), I love playing football. There’s so much competition in softball and in football I feel that I’m different from everyone else.
“Here, I feel like I can shine a little bit. Then with the Elite 11 opportunity, I knew I had to focus on this a little bit.”
CC was one of two girls from Arizona invited to compete in the Elite 11 regionals in Las Vegas. On May 1, she will join other girls from around the Western region in a showcase for female high school flag football players.
They will go through various footwork and throwing drills while competing for accolades from the camp’s staff. It’s also likely that college coaches will be in attendance as more and more schools are beginning to offer scholarships for startup flag football teams at the next level.
Casteel quarterback Cameron Anderson was also invited. But, as one of the top soccer players in the state, she is unable to attend due to a tournament. That leaves CC as the lone participant from Arizona.
She admits there’s some pressure from that, but she enjoys it. Stone believes she has nothing to worry about.
“CC is a microcosm of what is happening with flag football in this state,” Stone said. “I was watching the development of Elite 11 in Orlando a little over a year ago and I had a goal that in two to three years there would be one on the West coast that invites Arizona girls.
“Some of the coaches I’m friends with in Orlando called me up and I told them I had a girl with natural arm talent. (CC) doesn’t have the knowledge of some of those other quarterbacks, but she’s got better arm talent. All they have to do is see her and they’ll see her potential.”
CC credits her the support from her family for much of her success. She and her brother often workout with Mike at a local gym. Her mother, Stefanie Aguirre, shuttles her to and from various practices and games while cheering her on.
They’ve become the type of support system one would expect for a high school-aged athlete finding her way as she experiments with sports. CC knows she couldn’t do it without them.
“They’ve been so much help,” CC said. “My dad pushes me and pushes me and told me Elite 11 could be a once in a lifetime opportunity. My mom, too, she’s taking me everywhere. It shows me they’re there for me and it shows me I need to make something happen for them.”
Flag football has continued to grow on her with the success this season. Hamilton is currently undefeated and the top-ranked team heading into the CUSD flag football playoffs.
This year, for the first time ever, a trophy will be handed out at the end of the tournament. That has opened the eyes of other girls, most of which multi-sport athletes, as well as the state as more schools plan to create flag football teams for next year.
Stone is currently pushing for it to become a sanctioned sport by the AIA. So far, it seems to be going well.
The growth of the sport is what excites CC the most. That’s part of the reason why she has started to lean more toward football than softball for her future. But she hasn’t quite made that a final decision.
For now, she aims to use Elite 11 to not only further make a name for herself but to improve her craft. She knows she has the ability to be something special in the next two years, and she’s motivated to become the best version of herself she can be for next-level opportunities.
“This is my first year playing the sport and it’s like … wow,” CC said. “This is just my first year so what can I do next year and the following? It’s crazy to think I was given an opportunity.”