from the field

by Alisha Kirby
Girls flag football a sanctioned sport
What that means for students and school boards

he California Interscholastic Federation’s (CIF) Federated Council voted unanimously on Feb. 3 to add girls’ flag football as a statewide sanctioned sport for the upcoming 2023–24 school year. CIF is the statewide body that governs high school athletics.

The move adds California to a growing list of states that have included girls’ flag football in high school athletic programs, including Alabama, New York and Nevada, as participation in women’s sports has grown steadily across the country in recent decades.

Flag football in particular has seen a boost in interest among young people in recreational leagues as well as burgeoning support from the NFL, with the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers running a pilot high school league for girls in Southern California. According to the Associated Press, the NFL is even advocating for flag football to be added to the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

“For myself, as a board member, it is exciting to have the ability to offer as many opportunities for student athletes to participate in competitive sports as possible. The life skills they develop are unmatched,” said Melissa Peters, a CSBA Delegate, Los Molinos Unified School District trustee and CIF Federated Council member. “Flag football has been gaining in interest annually and preparing our female athletes for potential college play is important.”

3 girls smile as they play flag football with each other
One student’s story
For Los Angeles-native Laurencia Botts — a rising junior attending Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri, on athletic and grade-based scholarships — flag football has become the activity the three-sport athlete looks forward to most. The 5 ’3” starting linebacker said, “I wish I had had this in high school because it definitely has changed my life.”

A high school volleyball and basketball player, Botts said the most surprising thing was that she loved the physicality of the sport — an ironic twist, as she’d never liked high contact while playing sports in high school.

“I never saw myself playing this sport — I had never played football before in my life, and when I was in high school, I predominantly thought of it as a male sport,” she continued. “I just really hope that a lot of girls will want to play flag football and not be intimidated or scared by it. I hope more girls start to become more involved in it and it starts to become a typical sport that people play.”

Botts applauded the CIF’s decision and hopes it will help in expanding the sport’s popularity. There has been a national surge in interest too, she said, noting an ad that ran during the most recent Super Bowl promoting flag football for women.

“I think it’s amazing that I get to be a part of something [like that],” she said. “I can’t wait to see where it goes and how it grows, and I’m glad to see it’s already starting to expand so much in just a couple of years.”

Next steps
Prior to the CIF’s approval, California high schools could organize flag football clubs; allowing official interscholastic competition will likely push more schools to start teams to meet a growing demand. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the number of girls playing flag football in U.S. high schools doubled to 11,000 between 2008–09 and 2018–19.

Until the NFHS develops its own guidance, the CIF will use rules for girls’ flag football provided by the National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association and modified by the state CIF, which can be found here:

Challenges surrounding scheduling, coaching, budgetary matters and more remain. CSBA representatives on the CIF Federated Council offered suggestions to aid board members moving forward.

“In order to prepare for adding a new sport to a season, review the budget and set objectives that align with your district’s vision so that your superintendent and administrators can create directives that support student athletes,” Peters said.

girls smile in a huddle with mud on their arms from flag football
Nascent programs may find support from the likes of Nike and NFL Play for startup costs to cover things like balls, flags, cones and uniforms, but other issues may be a little tougher to navigate. During a fall 2022 Southern Section council meeting, debate occurred over whether girls’ flag football will be played in the fall or spring, with some members citing a current lack of available officials in fall.

Still, officials are eager to provide this opportunity to student athletes despite any difficulties that may arise. “School boards and high school principals’ challenge is figuring out how to share their stadium space and ensuring referee availability,” said Alex Vara, Redlands USD Board of Education vice president and CIF Federated Council Member. “[But] we are excited about providing equitable sporting practices for our students.”