GIRLS ON THE GRIDIRON

By Staff

Athletic Management, 17.6, October/November 2005, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1706/wugridiron.htm

Aiming to improve Title IX compliance, the Anchorage, Alaska School District sent out a survey last fall to find out which sports girls were interested in playing. A surprising leader emerged: flag football.

Almost one-third of current students said they would like to play girls’ flag football, which received more votes than any of the other options, including indoor soccer and lacrosse. “We’re always looking to find out what kids are interested in,” says Todd Arndt, Anchorage School District Supervisor in charge of high school sports. “And if 1,600 of them are interested in flag football, then we certainly are, too.”

The survey was Anchorage’s first step in deciding whether to add a new girls’ sport to its offerings. Next will be public discussion sessions in which Arndt and other officials from the Anchorage School District will talk to parents and students. If interest remains high, they’ll experiment with girls’ flag football as a pilot program, but that won’t take place for at least two more years.

“This year, we’re just gathering information to foster discussion,” says Arndt. “We’re still also looking at indoor soccer, lacrosse and others, but if there are this many kids interested, then we’d like to explore it as an option.”

Florida is currently the only state to offer girls’ flag football, and its participation rates have risen steadily since premiering in 1999, says Gary Pigott, Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) Athletic Director for girls’ flag football. The FHSAA was in a similar situation to Anchorage about seven years ago, when the state was found out of compliance with Title IX. Girls’ flag football has caught on fast and is now offered in almost 150 of Florida’s 700 public high schools as a spring sport.

“We keep adding players, including another county for next year,” says Pigott. “The more we play, the more coaches and players get involved. In a few years, we’ll have expanded girls’ flag football to include players from middle school through high school.”

The FHSAA has three levels of classification for each of its sports. They all start at the club level, and based on participation rates, can move up to become a recognized sport—which girls’ flag football is now—and eventually become sanctioned. As a recognized sport, girls’ flag football teams have been participating in a state championship tournament for the past three years, with a different champion each year.

“There’s only one classification for it right now, and the flag football state championship is a smaller event than the bigger-drawing sports,” says Pigott. “But it’s been refreshing to see teams play that really just enjoy it and are happy to be participating in a state tournament.”

Lake Worth High School has been to the state tournament all three years, claiming the runner-up title twice. The high school had such a high turnout when they first offered flag football in the spring of 2000 it added a j.v. squad. “I think girls have always liked football, but never really had the chance to play,” says Lake Worth Head Coach Rich Dujon, who previously coached boys’ football. “We’ve had to start making cuts even though we’re competing with softball and track and field in the spring.”

While there was some concern early on that adding flag football might draw females away from other spring sports, female participation rates as a whole in Florida have gone up since the program was added. That outweighed any concern the FHSAA had about other sports suffering.

The most difficult aspect of adding this sport, says Pigott is that there was a learning curve since the game is different from tackle football and not widely played. “My biggest concern when we decided to add flag football,” he says, “was to get everyone playing by the same set of rules.”

The FHSAA ultimately decided to use rules produced by the National Intramural Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA). They made a few modifications regarding safety for high school athletes.

“I tell people the hardest thing about flag football for girls is that there are no college games to go watch,” says Dujon. “But it all starts with getting girls out there to participate. I’d love to see the sport start in several different states and eventually find a place at the women’s collegiate level.”

For more information on FHSAA flag football, visit: www.fhsaa.org, click on “sports” then click on “flag football.”

For more on NIRSA rules, visit: www.nirsa.org.