UMass intramural flag football team takes on national championship

By Taylor Gilmore

Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian
Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

The field lights are on and against a sea of teams dressed in sweatpants and mismatched t-shirts, one intramural flag football team stands out. Dressed in neon green uniforms emblazoned with their logo and individual nicknames, PickSix huddles on the sideline to prepare for another game.

After an undefeated season, PickSix competed in the UMass men’s flag football championship on Nov. 14 at McGuirk Stadium, beating Zeta Beta Tau 39-0 to win for the second consecutive year. The team scored 359 points overall this season, but didn’t allow a single point.

PickSix was recognized for their accomplishments in intramural sports by the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA). NIRSA offers a variety of resources, promoting leadership, fitness and teamwork in intramural and recreational sports throughout the country. Leaders in campus recreation from colleges and universities around the country are invited to compete in a national championship series of flag football and other intramural sports every year.

PickSix represented UMass in the regional portion of NIRSA’s national championship series in Springfield during the first weekend of November. Winning the first round of regional games in Springfield qualified PickSix for round two of regional competition, playing with over 40 other universities for the Regional Flag Football Championship title in College Park, Md. in the middle of November.

“When we pulled in that day I didn’t even think we were going to make it to playoffs, but we dominated, which is kind of crazy,” junior Sean Heaney said.

The highlight of the trip for senior Ricky Silva, was “being at a different university seven hours away, hanging out, with no where really to stay, having a blast.”

“The whole weekend was exciting,” Cody Sloniecki added.

“It was a ball,”Alex Porter said. “My favorite part was surprising everyone, because nobody there thought we were going to win.”

The team won all seven of their games, although they were finally scored on. They returned to UMass with a regional championship trophy, a ticket to the national championship Jan. 3-5 in Pensacola, Fla., and even a few medals. Joe Johnson, Kevin Pomerleau and Matthew Schell won All Tournament Awards, and Schell was named Most Valuable Player.

“We’re all washed up athletes with nothing better to do,” Johnson said.

Pomerleau added, “This is our time to shine, and we did.”

The members of PickSix have an impressive past in athletics – many of them were award winners and captains for various high school sports.

Their background as athletes has given PickSix a leg up on the competition, but they said their spirit and friendship off the field is what makes them such successful teammates on the field.

“Most teams we play are teammates [but] we consider each other brothers,”Silva said. “We do everything together.”

“We just happen to have really athletic friends,” junior Ryan Imbriaco said.

When asked why they are so good, the unanimous response was “chemistry.”

“We just have fun,” Pomerleau said. “We went into every game looser than every other team.”

“All the other teams were on the field warming up and we were dancing on the sidelines,” Johnson added.

Tony Bolduc, a member of another UMass intramural flag football team had a different view of the team’s pregame routine.

“They do hurdles and formation stretching that that nobody else really does,” said Bolduc, a member of the Blackouts. “They have their headphones in, they’re getting into it. For intramurals that’s a little intense for me, but they seem like they’re ready to play. I know from playing them that they actually are good. They were fast. They were quick to grab their flags. They seem like they know what they’re doing better than everyone else.”

PickSix began with seven of the current team members four years ago. team grew.

“Now we have 14 guys and seven girls, but we have the PickSix family that all have t-shirts. So there’s about 20 plus of us,” Silva said.

Everyone in PickSix has a nickname that is written on the back of his or her shirt, including members that don’t play on a team but are part of the “family.”

“They are all pretty random,” Porter said. “They were said once and sort of just stuck.”

Nicknames range from variations of last names to inside jokes, like “Imbri” for Ryan Imbriaco, to “Ya Boi” for Alex Porter.

PickSix is a name that “just stuck,” too. In football, an interception is often called a “pick” and a touchdown is six points. When a player on the defense intercepts the ball and returns it for a touchdown, it is considered a pick six.

“We have no personal ties to the name,” Sloniecki said, “but because our defense is our strongest part of the team, we often force opponents to throw pick sixes.”

The team has also had an impressive intramural record in soccer and basketball, and with their co-rec teams. The PickSix co-rec flag football team also won the UMass intramural championship this year, and the men’s basketball team made it all the way to the championship game last season. The boys who started PickSix are still students at UMass, but this fall was their final season playing men’s flag football altogether. Competing in the national championship would be an impressive legacy to leave behind.

PickSix sought help from friends and family to compete in nationals and continue their winning streak. NIRSA waived the tournament entry fee since PickSix won the regional championship, but travel expenses, including hotels and airfare, were still a large burden on the group.

On Facebook and Twitter they advertised their cause, posting messages with a link to their donation page, hoping to receive some funding from their supporters. They also reached out to media organizations in the area to help spread the word.

“We are all hard-working college students who are looking to accomplish something amazing and represent our school in the meantime,” the team wrote on their GoFundMe page. “Every cent matters and we thank you in advance for your support.”

Though the team never made their goal of $5,000, they still managed to raise $3,518, enough for them to make the trip to the national championship. On the GoFundMe page, they thanked all their supporters for their generosity.

“We would personally like to thank everyone who donated their money towards our trip to the National Championships for flag football,” wrote Sloniecki. “We would also like to thank everyone who contributed their time to spreading the word about our fundraising.”

He added, “We will make sure to keep this page updated throughout the tournament and provide a summary of the tournament when we return. Thank you very much and go PickSix!”

Taylor Gilmore can be reached at [email protected]