KENMORE, N.Y. (AP) — Freshman Sydney Yost’s bid to establish a flag football program at her all-girl high school already has its first fan: NFL Vice President Troy Vincent.
This week, the former player visited Mount St. Mary Academy in suburban Buffalo, New York, to help Yost achieve the objective she and two classmates proposed in September and then laid out in a letter to him.
An avid Bills fan, Yost said she and her family started throwing around a football outside for exercise during the pandemic. With few avenues available for girls to play the sport, Yost wondered whether flag football could be an option.
“The topic we kept coming back to is that flag football should be an inclusive program. This is the main reason why we want to start one,” she wrote to Vincent. “It will empower women to be successful in a sport that is traditionally played by men.”
During his visit on Wednesday, Vincent not only provided Yost and school officials advice on how to establish a program, but also vowed to attend the first game.
“I will be here,” Vincent said. “There will be a program here. I’m committed to it.”
His visit coincides with the NFL’s growing push to promote flag football, particularly for girls and women, as pro sports leagues compete for new fans in an increasingly digital age.
On Friday, the league released to its 32 teams a standardized guide providing steps to assist schools on how to establish flag football programs. With it comes an allotment of grants, with the NFL projecting it will cost about $9,000 a year per team to cover coaching salaries, referee costs, equipment and other fees.
There’s an estimated 20 million people playing flag football in 100 countries, with the U.S. accounting for about 600,000. And six states have sanctioned girls flag football as a varsity sport, with 20 more launching pilot programs. A push is also being made to have flag football at the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
The NFL is even shifting to flag football, with the upcoming Pro Bowl featuring seven-on-seven games to replace the traditional AFC vs. NFC full-contact all-star game after years of criticism over the quality of play.
Vincent was struck by his two granddaughters’ reaction to attending the NAIA flag football championship in Atlanta in May.
“My younger granddaughter, she’s pointing at me, but I know she’s seeing herself on the field,” Vincent said, noting they’re normally accustomed to attending NFL games. “She’s seeing a young lady. So that was taking them out to experience and see what they could be.”
Yost was amazed her letter led to Vincent’s visit. And classmate Haley Karaszewski, who assisted in the proposal, said: “I think it’s really good because you watch football on TV and you really want to be a part of it, but you can’t. So this includes everybody.”
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John Wawrow, The Associated Press