Girls flag football newly sanctioned as state sport for the fall

Art by Christie Hong
Art by Christie Hong

Girls flag football became the newest high school-sanctioned sport in California, available for students as soon as this fall. The California Interscholastic Federation, the governing body of high school sports in the state, approved the move in a unanimous 146-0 vote on Feb. 3. 

Lawrence Mincey Jr., chairperson for the California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (CAHPERD) State Council on Interscholastic Athletics, said allowing for the sanctioning of girls flag football will enable players to not only reap the benefits of tackle football, even beyond its technical skills, but also pave a new path.

“Being able to showcase one’s speed, agility and coordination and being able to garner and foster lifelong relationships while competing in one of the fastest growing sports in the world (seems to be) an exciting proposition,” Mincey said. “In addition, the girls who compete will be pioneering a new and exciting movement within the game of football.”

Mincey said he was a voting member of the CIF’s Federated Council as the liaison between the council and CAHPERD.

“The process of approving the sanctioning starts with CIF member institutions presenting the idea to the CIF Federated council for it to become an agenda item, (which) occurred in the winter session of the CIF federated council meeting,” Mincey said. “This was followed up by a meeting to pitch the initiative and finally, the vote.”

Physical education teacher Stacey Kofman said flag football has become more popular as an alternative to tackle football for safety reasons. 

“While the sport of tackle football has seen a decline in the last 10 years due to the increased research and education on concussions, flag football lacks the collisions and contacts on the field,” Kofman said. “Even though incidental contact occurs, the rates of concussions are much less than tackle football.”

Despite the decline of tackle football, Paly has a rich history of resilience and success with the sport. JV football coach Jason Fung said the level of participation fluctuates every year for the team. 

“Unfortunately, it follows student interest. COVID-19 didn’t help the football program, but now it’s coming up to the surface again,” Fung said. “I had my biggest class of freshmen last year, which is a good starting point.”

Paly football has a strong winning tradition with a legacy of winning state championships in 2010 to winning multiple CCS titles –– the most recent one being last season’s Division V championship.  

Head football coach Dave DeGeronimo, who has coached football for 15 seasons, said flag football has only been a part of the physical education curriculum for underclassmen and in club-based activities outside of school.

“The only flag football history here at Palo Alto is the Powder Puff Game that used to be played during Homecoming Week and in our PE classes,” DeGeronimo said. 

The recen t decision from the CIF has the means to change that. Mincey said adding flag football as a sanctioned sport within the state will allow young women to strengthen their skills and interact with teammates and coaches throughout the process. 

“They can train and gain a foundational foothold in the competitive levels of the game in the same way that athletes (do in any other sport). This will also help the coaches have a profound effect on the lives of their athletes,” Mincey said. “There are plenty of people who have never played flag football, but now those people could even pass on their newfound knowledge of the game to the next generation.”

Kofman said creating a flag football program at Paly depends on student interest as well as  season timeline and the availability of officials and coaches.

Regardless of participation at Paly, Kofman said girls flag football can help the Athletics Department work to increase the representation of women in sports that are historically male-dominated, including football, through coaching. 

“Seeing more women in coaching positions across the board is evidence that women can coach and play in these male-dominated sports like football,” Kofman said.

Fung said while girls can participate in tackle football, there traditionally has been a lack of female representation on the team, but flag football provides a unique solution. 

“What’s different about flag football is that it has less violence as a no-contact sport without tackling,” Fung said.

DeGeronimo said although coaches and the Athletics Department have mixed feelings about the introduction of another sport when the department already has funding and resource issues, it could ultimately be an enriching space for girls. 

“If flag football is offered in the fall, field hockey participation could be negatively impacted, and the same would happen with lacrosse if offered in the spring,” DeGeronimo said. “And even though field space and scheduling for practices will be a greater challenge, overall, there should be excitement for this growing girls sport.”

Mincey said providing more opportunity for girls in sports is a huge positive, regardless of challenges, in both their current and future lives. 

“With the successful push from the university NAIA level to incorporate womens flag football as an official sport, players in California can continue their flag football careers into college and beyond,” Mincey said. “We can begin to establish a space (for women) to hold a bigger role in our country’s most popular sport.”

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