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Supporting one of their own

The Steelers are continuing their support of the Girls Flag Football League in Pittsburgh, helping to promote and grow the league during their 2023 season. There are 17 schools participating this year, up from six in 2022, with some of the schools having multiple teams because of the popularity. Throughout the Girls Flag Football season, will be bringing you feature stories, photo galleries and a wrap-up video at the end of the season.

Today's highlight is the 'Pink Out' game hosted by Ambridge, honoring their Coach Felicia Mycyk, a breast cancer survivor.

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Felicia Mycyk's voice got quiet for a moment.

And when she gathered her thoughts to talk again, you could hear the emotion in her voice. And it was easy to understand why.

Mycyk was talking about the 'Pink Out' game at Ambridge as a part of the Girls Flag Football League, honoring breast cancer survivors. And while everyone who has fought the battle was being honored, it was Mycyk's battle with breast cancer a year ago that inspired her players to want to have such a game.

Week 4 of the Steelers' Girls High School Flag Football season, Sunday, May 7, 2023 at Ambridge High School. (Abigail Dean / Pittsburgh Steelers)

"I don't look at it like they are doing it to honor me," said Mycyk. "It's more shedding light and raising awareness for breast cancer. The fact that I went through it is why they are doing it. I didn't let people know about it last year. For me, I want people to be aware and get checked as quickly as they can for it. It's an emotional toll it takes on people and their families. It's also an expensive disease to treat. Having a pink out football game, the impact of it and that I had it, will help the girls know it's about more than wearing pink to a game.

"One of the girls on our team asked if we could do a pink out, because so many of the football teams did that to raise awareness for breast cancer. Since I had it, it goes hand in hand. Breast cancer affects a lot of women. I usually wear my crucial catch shirt to practice. The girls now know what I went through. They all are wearing pink sleeves this year on their right arm, because my breast cancer was on my right side. They are just doing it because they knew what I went through, that I made it through last season. It's their way of showing support."

Mycyk, who is also the head track and field coach at Ambridge High School, was an assistant coach for the high school football team last year, dealing with her battle with breast cancer while working with a group of young men. It wasn't easy, especially since she dealt with it quietly and privately, but they did things along the way that helped her, even without knowing it.

"With high school football, almost every game now has a themed element with it," said Mycyk. "The entire season last year I was going through cancer treatment. I had finished my chemotherapy, but I had surgery during the season and was going through radiation. When I was coaching the boys' team last season, and I was going through it, seeing the boys wear the pink, I don't know if they knew how significant it was to me at the time because they didn't know what I was going through. But seeing the pink jerseys, the pink socks, headbands, all the pink stuff they wear, having someone who went through it takes it to another level."

Ambridge High School was the featured location for Week 4 of the Steelers' Girls High School Flag Football season

Being around football this season has helped normalize life for her. It has given her an avenue where cancer can take a backseat, where it can be forgotten for a little while.

"It hits me emotionally," said Mycyk. "Being at practice allows me to not be a cancer patient. Hearing them call me coach allows me to be mindful of what I had to do and be in the moment. They already helped me. I didn't need anything given back to me. When you are going through it, everything reminds you of it. You walk past a mirror, and it reminds you. You can't eat things and it reminds you. You have anxiety and depression battling with you. Being on the field and hearing the girls say, coach, 'What do I do next,' it allows me to stay in the moment and be mindful. Hearing they want to do something for me, for breast cancer, it means a lot. They helped me survive the entire process. This gives them something to remind people of the importance of early detection. It really is the key."

And for Mycyk, the key right now is helping the girls in their flag football journey. Her goal, and the goal of everyone in the league, is to see the sport continue to grow and hopefully reach a point where it is a sanctioned high school sport in Pennsylvania. The goal is also to continue to develop the love for the game and their approach to it.

"These girls are growing in confidence," said Mycyk. "It's a different type of confidence. They are developing as young women. It's getting them to understand we can move forward together. It's getting them to work together with other women. It's personal development that is going to transfer into every aspect of their lives. That is what I love about this game. It's helping them grow in their confidence. I tell them not to let anyone take away from their greatness. They are coming into their own and confident in who they are. It's fun to watch them. It's all personal development. I am so excited to watch it right in front of me."

If there is one thing Mycyk knows, it's that so much of that growth, confidence and development wouldn't be possible without the help from the Steelers. The Steelers supporting the league gives the girls a sense of someone caring about them, someone saying they have just as much a right to play football as the boys do.

"There are a lot of flag football teams out there, but when you have someone with a name behind them, a massive well-respected name saying you matter, we value what you are doing, we want to grow this sport and make it accessible to everyone, that matters," said Mycyk. "You are thinking this is cool, why wouldn't I be doing this. We had an event at the beginning of the season where they invited us to Acrisure Stadium. With them inviting us to the locker room, my team increased by five more girls from them just seeing the pictures and that we have the support from the Steelers. It's one of those things when your mom tells you that you look great, it's okay. But then someone else tells you that you look great, it hits differently. And when the Steelers do something like this, it definitely hits differently. It's something special. Why would the Steelers want to take time out to develop girls high school football? It's because they have been so focused on the game of football and moving it forward. I have been coaching for so long, and I have seen women want to get into it, this is where it all starts, where people develop their habits.

"To reach them at this age will live with them forever. They will never forget the Steelers reaching out and saying … you matter."