Combined interscholastic league to benefit players, competition level

Combined interscholastic league to benefit players, competition level

[March 25, 2024 – Harmon, Guam] When St. John’s School goalkeeper Ha’ani Byerly stepped onto the pitch with her teammates at John F. Kennedy High School to play against Okkodo High School in the season opener of the Girls Interscholastic High School Football League Friday afternoon, it was a different, yet refreshing feeling from previous seasons.

football donation

St. John’s School Knights goalkeeper Ha’ani Byerly accepts a football equipment donation from Guam Football Association President Valentino San Gil (left) and Guam Football Association Executive Committee Member Peter Toves (right) during the 10th edition of the Challenge Cup Girls High School Football League Preseason Tournament held Mar. 17 at the GFA National Training Center. The equipment donation to schools taking part in the newly combined Interscholastic Girls High School Football League coordinated by Guam Football Association was part of a GFA incentive to help participating schools prepare for the league. Photo by Samantha Bautista / GFA

“Playing on a completely different field than previous seasons against a team that we had never challenged before, it made it feel like an actual high school league season to me,” Byerly said. “Since middle school, I had always looked forward to high school football because at that time, there was only one league for all high schools. By the time I became a freshman in high school, the league got separated and I never got to experience a single league. I’m super grateful to experience this at least one year, and thank all involved for combining the leagues.

“I think it’s so much better that the league will feature all high schools together. It’s really refreshing to play against different players and teams and see all the talent on island from different schools. There are 10 different playing styles, 10 different philosophies, from the 10 schools we will play against and it’ll really be a challenge during the season. With this format, I believe it’ll raise the level of football on island and competitiveness of the league,” added Byerly, now a senior at St. John’s School, which previously competed in the IIAAG Girls High School League.

For the past three school years, Guam Football Association had been working with both IIAAG and ISA to return to a single league. A single league featuring close to a dozen teams would benefit player development primarily, and eventually coach development, raising the level of the sport, said Joe Cepeda, GFA General Secretary.

“I am happy that we have found an agreeable format with both IIAAG and ISA to combine the leagues again,” Cepeda said. “For us, the push to combine the leagues really was first and foremost for the benefit of the players. Players are now able to compete against their peers regardless of which type of school they attend. Each league has very talented players and they should have an opportunity to compete against each other. The scouting of players for Guam’s national program will be more constructive with this combined league format and the eventual increased level of competition will potentially aid players looking to get onto intercollegiate teams after high school.

“Down the pipeline, we’d like to pave an elite coaching pathway for interscholastic coaches as well. Just how teachers are certified to teach, coaches need to be certified to provide the best environment and opportunity for our young athletes. Also, the combined league will eventually standardize eligibility and quality of play across the board,” Cepeda added.

Planning and preparation for the newly combined league took a lot of coordination and convincing, ISA soccer commissioner Eladio Manansala said. Manansala is grateful for GFA coordinating the league and also providing equipment for participating schools.

“I would really like to thank GFA for stepping up to make sure we combined the league again in the best interest of the players,” Manansala said. “We’re such a small island to be divided, especially with football – the two leagues operating separately were OK, but it really wasn’t the best for the players. In the beginning, it took some convincing at the team and school level and eventually at the league level from both sides for a few years. Initially, once we agreed to combine with GFA’s coordination, we were looking at beginning next school year, but with the Girls’ High School season about to start for both leagues a few weeks ago, we said, ‘why can’t we just start now since we’re in the same season?’

“The players have always wanted it this way and this is a great starting point. From those I’ve spoken to, the coaches are happy and they’re excited about it. Parents are also happy for this, too. We’re looking to have this for the next Interscholastic Boys High School season as well,” Manansala added.

During the 10th edition of the Challenge Cup, Girls High School Football Preseason Tournament on Mar. 17, GFA President Valentino San Gil and GFA Executive Committee member Peter Toves distributed football equipment to 11 participating schools. Representatives from each school accepted the equipment for use in preparation for the league.

The Interscholastic Girls High School Football League officially opened Mar. 22 with two matches. The St. John’s School Knights drew 2-2 with Okkodo High School and George Washington High School won 2-0 over Tiyan High School.

The next set of matches is Mar. 27 with three matches in two venues: Simon Sanchez High School against Notre Dame High School and John F. Kennedy High School vs Southern High School at 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., respectively, at JFK. Harvest Christian Academy will play against Academy of Our Lady of Guam at 4:30 p.m at Harvest.

Beginning in April, matches will be played on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

The full schedule is online on GFA’s official Web site: