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NFL strives to bolster girls' flag football across all levels

By Excerpted from ESPN, 05/15/23, 9:45AM PDT


Seven states sanction high school girls' flag, with approximately 20 additional states having pilot programs.  Read about some of the steps the NFL is taking to grow the sport across the country.  

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Jaclyn Johns came across the formation and took the direct snap before tossing it to her quarterback, Julia Geis. Johns kept moving in the flat, angling herself toward the end zone.

Johns' high school team, Blessed Trinity from Roswell, Georgia, ran this play once before and she didn't get the ball back. This time, Geis looked her way. "I'm like, 'Do not drop this,'" Johns said.

A year ago, Johns wasn't on the team, initially skeptical about flag football. An all-around athlete, she'd played basketball and soccer since the age of 4 and lacrosse, earning a scholarship to Navy, since second grade.

But football was in her family. Her grandfather, the late Johnny Gresham, won a high school state title and played running back at Georgia Tech in the 1960s. Wearing his No. 30, it's a sport she never thought she'd be able to participate in until her high school started a girls' flag football team.

"Football was his main sport, and he went to the state championship one of his years and he won," Johns said. "I was like, 'I want to win.' That was one of my motivators."

She caught the ball and scored the touchdown for a double-overtime victory over Milton. Her teammates mobbed her in the end zone. The senior won a state title in a sport she picked up months earlier, in part from watching videos on YouTube and playing catch with her dad. Flag football as a competitive high school sport is new, different and, in the state of Georgia, almost everywhere.

It started in Florida, which added girls' flag football at the high school level in 2003. In 2011, the New York Jets gave $50,000 for the New York City Public Schools Athletic League to start a girls' flag football league within the city with 20 schools -- and have given the NYC PSAL $50,000 each year since, growing it to around 60 teams. Nevada held its first state championship in 2017 and the following year, Georgia considered the idea. It was in Georgia, with an investment from the Atlanta Falcons, where the push of national attention for flag football began. What began with one county and 19 schools had grown to nearly 250 schools playing by 2022, a microcosm of flag football's growth nationwide.

Since being sanctioned in 2018, girls high school flag football has spread to more than 250 schools in Georgia. Kendrick Brinson for ESPN

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This excerpt was taken from a longer ESPN article linked here.