The three teen girls that can be seen wearing neon jackets on the Hilmar High football sideline and gesturing wildly during games are not participating in the newest TikTok dance challenge. They are, in fact, using hand signals to call each and every play the Yellowjackets run on the field.
Longtime Hilmar varsity football coach Frank Marques has been using these unique “playcallers” for the past seven years.
“We were out here practicing and we were going no-huddle to speed up our offense and we needed somebody calling in plays. So, we tried coaches but they're always busy doing something. We tried players but they are always screwing around and not really paying attention…And so I had a girl in my leadership class I was teaching at the time and asked them if they could come out and help do that. And they came out and they were lights out. They just did a great job. It’s been super successful because that's all they do. And they're really attentive, they pay attention, they're all business. And so, it's been a really good experience,” said Marques.
From then on, the Yellowjackets have had a three-person playcalling squad as part of their team. Marques gives them a script of plays before each practice and game and the girls “call out” the plays using hand signals.
“So, they are on the sidelines and I don't have to worry about the play. All my coaches have the script; the girls have the script, so they know what plays are coming up. The players know to look at them for the play. They don't look at me or even ask for the plays because they just know the girls are always signaling the play,” said Marques.
The system must be working for the Yellowjackets, as the Trans-Valley League team has reached four straight section titles games (not counting the 2020 COVID season when there were no playoffs) since Marques started using playcallers.
The coach is quick to shoot down any doubters.
“I have some friends of mine that are in coaching who asked ‘they don’t really signal the plays, do they?’ And I said ‘absolutely.’ And they said ‘you trust them, 15,16, 17-year-old girls to do that?’ I said ‘absolutely.’ I think kids will rise to the occasion for the expectations you have for them. We’ve never had a problem, never been a discipline issue. The team treats them like one of their peers…I think it’s been one of the best kept secrets.”
The playcaller squad is always made up of a veteran upperclassman and then two younger girls and when one graduates, the older girls find a replacement.
When Sequeira was asked to become a playcaller she said it was an “obvious yes.” She grew up seeing the playcallers on the field and couldn’t wait to become one.
Football runs in the family for Stavrinakis.
“I kind of grew up on the football field,” she said. Her dad, George Stavrianoudakis was a former head coach of Hilmar football and still helps out.
She said she might as well be productive since she was on the sidelines anyway.
Mattos plays softball and said she enjoys getting a different perspective on sports from being an athlete to one calling the plays.
As the newbie to the squad she said memorizing all the signals for the plays was the hardest part.
All three said the best part of being a playcaller was the sisterhood of the group and then being included in the brotherhood of the entire football team. And the playcallers are part of the team. They are at every practice and every game.
“When they’re out here, we’re out here; 6 a.m. practice, we’re here,” said Sequeira.
Marques said that they run the tempo of the practices.
Senior Hudson Azevedo — who started as quarterback for the Yellowjackets, went out due to a shoulder injury and was able to return just in time for playoffs — said that the playcallers work really hard as part of the team.
“It’s like a family. Every trophy we get, they get,” he said.