Judge leaves a lasting impression on championship-caliber girl’s flag football team
Being a stickler for the rules isn’t just a job requirement for 13th Judicial Circuit Judge Greg Green — it’s also a winning formula.
Judge Green says his emphasis on discipline, fair play, and attention to detail has helped make Tampa’s Robinson High School girl’s flag football team he coaches a six-time state champion — and more recently, the focus of a Nike media campaign.
“It’s very similar to the way I run my courtroom,” he said. “We always tell them, rules are important. If we follow the rules, we get rewarded.”
For the past decade, Judge Green has served as the team’s assistant head coach and defensive coordinator. It’s an understatement to say the strategy he and head coach Josh Saunders are using is working well.
This year, it was flawless.
The Robinson Knights claimed their latest Division 1A, FHSAA state title on May 8, beating FAMU High School 33-7 in a tournament in Jacksonville. For the Knights, the victory capped a 22-0 season.
“It’s been a great run,” Judge Green said. “We’ve been either in the quarter finals, semi-finals, or finals, eight years in a row.”
The Robinson Knights also became state champions in 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. If the players are learning from their mistakes, it’s probably during scrimmages and workouts.
“Of our last 108 games, we’re 104-4,” Judge Green said.
The superlative record doesn’t hint at a lack of competition. Judge Green said 300 high schools in Florida have a girl’s flag football team. Recently added as a college sport, girl’ s flag football is growing by leaps and bounds across the country. Judge Green estimates that about 10 states have programs.
And Nike wants to see more, Judge Green said.
The retailer recently donated $5 million to promote the sport in Florida, and in January shot a commercial featuring the Knights and another Hillsborough public school, Alonso High School, the Division 2A champion two years in a row.
“There was a big push around the Super Bowl,” Judge Green said of the 60-second spot. “It’s been on NFL Network a couple of times. Nike is doing everything they can to get the word out.”
Ranging in age from 14-18, and freshmen to seniors, Robinson players are all in top physical condition, Judge Green says. He estimates that about 60% are multi-sport athletes, juggling an intense flag football schedule with their academics and soccer, track, or basketball.
“Our program is pretty intense, it’s year-round,” Judge Green said. “We’ll take off between now and June, and then in June we begin off season stuff through the umbrella of AAU, so we’ll continue practicing and playing in AAU tournaments throughout the year, and then the season will actually start up again in February.”
Judge Green unabashedly claims that his team has another secret weapon — super smarts.
Robinson High School participates in the IB Program, or International Baccalaureate, which is more demanding academically. About 20 of his 25 players are enrolled in IB, Judge Green said.
It shows on the field, Judge Green says. Because it’s too risky to distribute a playbook — it could fall into the hands of the competition — the coaches require their players to memorize more than 50 plays and signals.
“Not only are they good athletes, but they’re really, really smart,” he said. “That makes coaching them so much fun. You tell them once, and they get it, they’re off and running.”
And the players are tough, Judge Green said. Contact is discouraged in the sport — yanking a flag Velcroed to a belt constitutes a tackle — but it occurs, Judge Green said.
Over the years, a few of Judge Green’s players have suffered concussions and more have suffered serious knee injuries.
“In my 10 years of coaching, we’ve had probably six torn ACLs, and in fact, one of the varsity seniors that just graduated…she actually tore her ACL as a sophomore,” he said. “She came back, rehabbed it, and she was one of our best players this year.”
Judge Green’s athletic career began at age 5. He played basketball and football in high school, and could have played basketball in a lower division college, but focused instead on academics.
He played intramural sports while an undergrad at the University of South Florida, where he met his coaching friends and got hooked on flag football.
Saunders went on to become a Robinson coach after graduating USF. Judge Green went to FSU law school.
Eleven years ago, long before he was elected to the bench, Judge Green got a call from Saunders. Saunders had been head coach of the flag team at Robinson for about three years.
“He kind of tricked me and said, hey, I need an extra pair of eyes, why don’t you come out and watch?” Judge Green laughs. “I fell in love with it.”
A year later, Judge Green was coaching in addition to his legal practice.
Over the years, Judge Green has mentored many players, offering career advice, and even jobs in his law firm. He hired one former student as a paralegal. After going on to work for the U.S. Department of Justice in Orlando, she is about to join the FBI, Green said.
Other former players have worked on his campaign, or babysat for his two daughters, now 4 and 6. The two are enrolled in a flag football program near their home, and some of Judge Green’s players come to their games.
When he was elected to the bench earlier this year, Judge Green was encouraged by Chief Judge Ronald Ficarrotta to continue his coaching. It didn’t take much encouragement.
“He said you need to keep doing this,” Judge Green said. “We want our judges out in the public. We want everyone to know that you’re not just this person in the black robe that is up on the bench, and then goes away.”