The next frontier for California high school sports: Flag football for girls | Opinion
Back in my playing days, football was broadly seen as a man’s game — one that fathers learned as boys and then taught to their sons.
Thankfully, times have changed. Football is for all, and it’s more inclusive than ever before thanks to the rise of flag football.
Women and girls have been at the forefront of flag football’s growth, with nearly 450,000 people now involved in organized leagues across the country. On February 3, the California Interscholastic Federation will decide whether to add to this rising number by making girls flag football an official sanctioned sport inside high schools across the state. The governing body’s southern section has already approved this measure, paving the way for teenage girls in Southern California to engage in a sport now played by over 20 million athletes across more than 100 countries.
Californians have a proven interest in flag football, mirroring a national appeal that’s made the game one of the fastest growing sports in America. The state already has thriving youth leagues through NFL Flag and San Jose’s Norcal, as well as the San Francisco 49ers’ PREP Flag Football, which provides Bay Area communities with free resources to facilitate their own leagues.
Girls’ flag football also continues to expand at the higher levels, launching as an official National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics sport in 2021. Think of the possibilities for student-athletes if they choose to play past high school: Maybe they’ll be the next breakout star at college or the World Games — possibly even the Olympics. This is no longer just a backyard sport for girls’ pickup games during family holiday gatherings.
After the Los Angeles Chargers and Rams announced plans for a pilot flag season in early 2022, more than 70 schools filled out entry forms for the eight-team league, far exceeding expectations.
The 49ers are working on a similar plan to serve Northern California. This past summer, the team supported local interest with its first-ever Girls Flag Football Jamboree. Dr. Jen Welter, the NFL’s first female coach, led the event, which provided instruction for girls eager to advance their skills.
Flag football is a known commodity. The state has numerous youth leagues, and there’s familiarity with the game, its rules and its inherent inclusivity. A new fleet of officials are being trained and made available with every season. And more women — after gaining their own experiences as players — will no doubt enter the pipeline as coaches, referees and role models.
Since flag football can be played on practically any field, gym or open area, schools won’t need to find specialized space for competition. Varsity programs have peacefully coexisted for decades; so can flag football.
It’s one thing to watch games or cheer for your team. It’s another to be part of the action. Flag football is providing this chance to girls across the country, so now is the time to make it an official sport in high schools across California.
Five time Pro-Bowler Troy Vincent, Sr. is the executive vice president of football operations for the National Football League. He also serves as the co-chair of Vision28, a partnership with the International Federation of American Football to lead flag football’s inclusion in the 2028 Summer Olympics.