Home Sport gear Is women’s flag football the next high school sport in California?

Is women’s flag football the next high school sport in California?

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Tina Hu was an athlete without a sport.

As a sophomore at Lowell High School, she found herself in a place all too familiar to students who wanted to play but couldn’t afford the specialized training and opportunities offered by teams. private clubs. Some volleyball and basketball spots seemed out of reach.

Then Hu found his opening. Lowell started a girls club flag soccer program, and nearly everyone who signed up was all green.

“I had the skills to play football, but even if I did something like basketball, most of the girls had started when they were four,” said Hu, who now attends Skyline College in San Bruno, where she took a short course in flag football. elective in first year. “Most of the girls were new to flag football, it felt like we were on the same pitch.”

Now, those pitches are about to expand to thousands of girls like her across California. The CIF Federated Council passed a proposal at its meeting in Los Angeles on Oct. 7 to make women’s flag soccer an official college sport for the 2023-24 school year, with a vote expected in February. The Southern Section codified it a week earlier, but the CIF’s decision would impact all 10 sections, and it appears to have overwhelming support.

“The CIF Oakland Chapter fully supports women’s flag football as an official CIF-sanctioned sport,” said Oakland Chapter Commissioner Frank Navarro. “We are excited to provide more opportunities for our girls.”

It has been more than two decades since the CIF sanctioned a new sport, most recently adding lacrosse in 2001. The federation’s interest in women’s flag football comes as the sport has seen strong growth as overall participation in Female high school athletics, already stagnant before the pandemic, declined 8.2% from 2020 to 2022, according to its latest census.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, the number of girls playing flag football in American high schools doubled to 11,000 between 2008 and 2019. From 2019 to 22, that number jumped 40% to 15 716, while boys’ girls tackling football teams increased by 39% to 3,633 during this period.

Flag football has been sanctioned at the high school level in Florida, Alabama, and Nevada. The bulk of NAIA programs are in the Southeast; La Sierra University at Riverside is the only California institution to offer it as a varsity sport.

“A lot of girls want to play football,” Hu said. “The tackle may be scarier, but the flag makes it feel like it’s for everyone.”

The surge in women’s flag football across the United States has come at a time when tackling football has come under scrutiny for excessive head injuries and other safety issues, and in conversation reinforcement around class inequity preventing opportunities for all athletes.

“We are delighted with this,” added Northern Section Commissioner Pat Cruickshank. “I look forward to him progressing through the CIF process.”

The South section voted at the end of September 61-26 in favor with two abstentions.

When a sport becomes sanctioned, it opens the door to cross-sectional play and state championships, which are the CIF’s biggest source of revenue. It also reduces red tape for chapters hoping to introduce a sport, which must obtain board approval if it is not already sanctioned at the CIF level.

Women’s flag football would not be required to be taken up by all schools or sections, but would have the CIF structure behind all section leagues.

The San Francisco chapter, which began sponsoring the sport in 2012, will have 10 participating club teams this season, with the first games scheduled for March 1 and the playoffs in April. If it becomes sanctioned, it is expected to become a fall sport, but it’s unclear when that decision will take effect. The South Section ratified it as a fall sport due to potential conflicts with women’s lacrosse players, which is a spring sport.

Lincoln defeated Galileo for the title last season, breaking Galileo’s two-season reign; the 2020 and 2021 seasons had been canceled due to COVID, so this was the first championship since 2019.

“I wish they had provided it when I was in high school,” said Lincoln head coach Camille Bustos, who is entering his sixth season at the helm. “I’ve always loved soccer. … It would be exciting for more secondary schools to provide it to girls.

Joelle Wang joined Lincoln’s flag football team as a rookie when she was looking for another sport to play alongside basketball. Like many of her teammates, she didn’t know.

She saw a “cute little flyer” advertising the team, and joining a no-cut sport to find a community appealed to her.

“There’s a lot less pressure,” said Wang, now a senior, who was on San Francisco’s first team. “People come from all sporting backgrounds. I didn’t even know how football worked, which was very stressful, but now I love it.

Wang practiced before school to master the throwing of a soccer ball and is now the team’s quarterback, also playing wide receiver and linebacker when needed. She said the school funded most of the equipment and travel, but the players also raised funds for the rest of last season.

The NFL took note of the national push; in 2021, the league partnered with Nike to launch a $5 million grant for women’s and women’s flag football. The Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers started the high school leagues last season and were major movers for the South Section.

The 49ers also began to get involved, hosting a women’s soccer jamboree in August. They hope to hold another in the spring with a higher number; 12 players showed up at the inaugural event.

“We’ve had monthly calls with (the Chargers and the Rams) to make sure we’re doing everything in the same format,” 49ers PREP senior manager Tucker Baksa said. “We want to make sure that California is on the same page, so that high school (girls) football is more established in the Bay Area and hope for an upvote at the state level with the momentum. of the southern section.”

Earlier this year, the NFL and the International Federation of American Football introduced Vision28, an effort that has led flag football towards inclusion at the Olympics, starting with Los Angeles in 2028.

Girls are allowed on soccer tackle rosters in California and 593 played last season, a number that has been rising since 2013.

Still, the girls turned to a sport with their own flag community.

“Some of my girls have been reluctant to play football because of head injuries,” said Balboa flag football coach Alec Williams, who is entering his sixth season. “If they wanted to do it, I support them, but a lot of girls have thought about whether they want to.”

The IFAF estimates that 2.4 million children under the age of 17 play organized flag football in the United States. Only a fraction of them have the opportunity to compete for their high school.

The sport’s next growth spurt could come through California.

“It would be great if we could have a state champion,” Wang said. “I would have loved to continue my season after winning the section. If (the CIF) makes it a sport in its own right, we could be state champions.

Marisa Ingemi is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]