Details are still being worked out, but it’s more likely than possible that girls’ flag football will be played at Casa Grande and Petaluma High Schools as early as next fall.
The initiative for the sport is led by Casa Grande’s executive football coach and athletic director, John Antonio, who has worked with the Petaluma City School District to introduce the sport locally. According to Antonio, girls’ flag football has already been recognized as a legitimate sport by the California Interscholastic Federation and the North Coast Section.
Still, “There are a lot of unanswered questions,” noted Kevin Jackson, athletic director of Petaluma High School. “But I’m excited about the opportunity and the potential. If a school offers it, we will both offer it.”
Antonio is a strong supporter of flag football and one of the motivators behind the Gridiron student flag football program, which is now being played this spring in Petaluma by youth ages 6-12.
“A girls’ flag program is something we’ve been working on for over a year,” he said. “It’s time.”
Antonio pointed out that the beauty of flag football from an administrative perspective is that it’s relatively cheap. “You really don’t need any equipment. It’s a non-contact sport, so you don’t need a helmet or shoulder pads,” he said.
The game is played 7v7 and emphasizes passing, speed and deception.
The biggest sticking points, according to Antonio, are the expense of a coach, which must be hired by the school district, and referees, which become a team expense. Petaluma High School athletic officials are paid by each team as part of their fundraising efforts.
“Referees could get expensive,” Antonio admitted. “I see the girls play twice a week and that could get expensive for the officials.”
Jackson said it was his understanding that the school district approved a stipend for the coaches.
In terms of timing, Antonio said the sport could begin as early as this year, with spring training and games beginning in the fall.
Casa Grande’s sporting director envisions the team falling under the umbrella of the larger football program, albeit with a dedicated head coach. At Petaluma, flag football would be a standalone sports program.
The practice room could pose a problem as the new program runs concurrently with boys’ football and overlaps with the start of boys’ and girls’ football. Spring training for flag football, which competes with a variety of other sports, will be difficult.
“However, we will make some adjustments and find some space,” said Antonio. “The girls deserve it”
As for the players, Antonio said it’s not a problem.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re not fully booked,” he said. In the fall, volleyball, tennis, golf, and cheer play the only programs that conflict for the girls, with many volleyball players playing basketball in the winter or softball in the spring.
Antonio pointed out that many girls are now growing up playing flag football. “A lot of girls act in our children’s programs,” he said. “A lot of them dominate the league.”
Among other details yet to be worked out is the composition of the league. According to Antonio, every school in the Vine Valley Athletic League has expressed an interest, but nothing is official.
“It’s about equal opportunities for girls,” he said. “Girls’ sport is very strong at Casa Grande and I think it’s great that we were able to include girls in our soccer program.”
Petaluma High football coach Rick Krist thinks a girls’ flag football league is a good idea.
“There’s not much for girls in the fall,” he stressed. “I never say no when it comes to getting more kids on the pitch.”
He added: “There aren’t many costs involved. All you need are cleats, shorts and a t-shirt, and you’re good to go.”
However, he sees a potential problem for spring training. “When the teams want to train in the spring, there is chaos,” he said.
Antonio doesn’t expect flag football to become an alternative for boys’ tackle football, though it’s replacing tackle diversity in some youth programs — and even the NFL played flag football in its All-Star game this year to help prevent injuries .
“I don’t think tackle football is ever going to go away,” Antonio said. “Tackle football is stronger than ever. Youth flag soccer leagues could get more kids involved in high school soccer.”
Krist agreed that a flag football program could lead to even more interest in tackle football. “Flag football is a great tool to teach football,” said the Petaluma coach.
“We don’t want to replace traditional football, we want to offer our students another sport,” said Jackson.