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From Sidelines to Spotlight: The Ascension of Women’s Flag Football

By September 11, 2023Athletics

Within the last few years, flag football has been on a skyward trajectory. It’s the fastest-growing sport in the U.S., with more than 1,600 active leagues and over half a million athletes. The cause for the sport’s growth? A dramatic increase in young women’s participation. Women’s flag football has shot up 63% since 2019 and now involves over 474,000 women and girls between the ages of six and 17. Even locally in Western New York, there are now almost 50 high-school women’s flag football teams.

This fall, Villa Maria College is offering women’s flag football athletes the chance to take their game to the next level as the first college in the area to have an inter-collegiate flag football team for women. So, what’s really the driving force behind the sudden popularity of women’s flag football?

There’s Support from the NFL and Nike

In 2021, Nike and the NFL announced their plans to commit $5 million to facilitate girls’ flag football in high school athletic programs. This initiative permitted athletic associations from all 50 states to apply for product funding. These one-time donations could then be used by schools to purchase equipment and other essentials to help women’s flag football hit the ground running. Villa’s own collegiate team was made possible thanks in part to strong support from the Buffalo Bills, who also have advocated for and helped develop high school teams across Western New York.

“The NFL football as a whole is really popular. Even though there hasn’t been ample opportunity for girls to get into the sport, Buffalo is a football town and girls grew up being fans of the Bills and learning about football through the team,” said women’s flag football Head Coach, Keith Wing.

There’s More Visibility Around Women’s Flag Football

Women’s flag football has seen some pretty big viral moments in recent years. However, one of the most sensational was Diana Flores in the NFL’s “Run With It” commercial during Super Bowl LVII. Flores is the quarterback of Mexico’s national women’s flag football team, which won a gold medal in 2022 during The World Games’ women’s flag football championship against the U.S. That visibility allows girls and women across the country to see themselves represented, which can inspire them to explore the sport.

It’s An Extremely Accessible Sport

Traditional football is known for brute force, heavy-hitting strength, and expensive equipment. While there is a growing movement of women joining traditional football teams across the country, flag football has made a greater mainstream impact. Unlike its origin sport, flag football revolves heavily around speed, agility, and creative, evasive maneuvers. All a team needs are a group of people willing to play, a ball, flags, and Velcro belts. The game is also played in a much more open space, as most games are played with either five or seven players on each side. That gives the sport a highly competitive, fast-paced, think-on-your-feet element that has resonated with many female athletes.

“Before coaching at the collegiate level, I coached 42 girls on a high school team. No one had any experience and yet it became a huge favorite because the game is so exciting, so fun, and so fast-paced,” said Coach Keith.

Just like his former team, the Villa Vikings will be made up of a lot of passionate newcomers to the sport. Braelynne Potter, an incoming freshman in the interior design program, is looking forward to playing flag football for the first time at a competitive level.

“I’ve played flag football as a unit in gym in high school, but mostly I played soccer and ran sprint events on my high school’s track and field team. I think learning a new sport, meeting new friends, and working with coaches will be a fun way to start my year here,” Braelynne said.

There’s A Demand for More Athletic Opportunities for Women

Studies have documented that girls have 1.3 million fewer high school sports and athletic options available to them than boys. Between social stigmas, lack of access, and fewer opportunities, most girls end their stint in sports at age 14. However, the support behind flag football is giving more women and girls a reason to join and stay in sports. With collegiate programs like Villa’s now available, female athletes have the chance to advance their education while continuing to build skills and confidence through flag football.

“For me to be a part of this movement, I think it’s amazing. I grew up in a small town in New York and I think I can make my town proud of what I’m able to accomplish,” Braelynne said.

Coach Keith agrees with that sentiment.

“It’s really exciting to be part of this movement on the ground level. We all understand the historical context and have talked about what it means to be the first team,” said Coach Keith.

Learn More About Women’s Flag Football at Villa

Villa is proud to continue expanding its extracurricular activities and sports programs. We’re looking forward to empowering our student-athletes and cheering them on as they head into their inaugural season. If you are interested in continuing your career in women’s flag football beyond high school and want to become a Villa Viking, please contact our recruitment team!