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Girls Flag Is The "Next Big Thing," Ahead Of WIAA Vote To Sanction Sport

In the first week of May, the WIAA will vote on sanctioning girls flag football for the state of Washington

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Across the country, athletes and fans alike are seeing a shift in the way that girls and women's sports are covered and the amount of coverage those athletes get. Take for example, this past NCAA Women's March Madness tournament, the women's National Championship game brought in 18.87 million viewers, more than the men's championship game, which peaked at 14.82 million viewers.

This same shift is happening even at the high school athletics level, where there's been a push for states across the country to sanction flag football for girls. Washington state has been one of the latest states to push and urge the schools to sanction the sport. In early May the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association will vote, and if passed, Washington will be the 12th state to make girls flag football an official high school sport. Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Nevada, Alaska, New York, Arizona, Illinois, California, Tennessee and most recently Colorado have all sanctioned girls flag football.

Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett said girls flag is not only important but also "dope" that girls will be able to play.

"I think it's just a really cool opportunity, but I also do think that it should be a sport because even as you look at the Pro Bowl and what's happening with flag football becoming a thing. I think that it is going to continue to be something that's going to be really big down the line and I think it's a way that women can be a part of and play football."

Flag football will also take a bigger stage when fans watch it as a part of the 2028 L.A. Olympics.

And the Seahawks have been at the forefront of shining a light on girls flag football in Washington through contributing to grants for schools across the state to start up pilot girls flag programs to hosting flag football jamborees.

"Flag Football has not just brought our school closer together," Emerald Ridge High School Flag Football Head Coach, Ayanna Arceneaux said. "But it also created a tighter bond within our community. This sport gave a platform for girls to have their voices heard through the actions they show. These talented athletes had the ability to compete in a sport that is known mostly for boys and men."

Seahawks Vice President of Community Engagement and Legends, Mario Bailey, said he's noticed how important this sport is for girls, saying that it gives them opportunity.

"It's going to be an Olympic sport," Bailey said. "States that are sanctioned, they are ahead of the game and their girls are way more advanced because they're playing. It's important for this to get sanctioned because it's not a matter of if it's ever going to be sanctioned, it's going to happen. So why not get it done now, so we can compete and also give these girls an opportunity to play."

NFL Flag reports there has been a 30 percent increase in female participation of flag football at the high school level since 2019, and 50 percent of girls who play flag football were previously not participating in other sports.

Bailey said in some part of the state, there has been an overflow of participants for a few of the schools' girls flag programs.

"Some of the schools that we've been to in Kent and Federal Way, the participation is over the top, so much so that coaches are having to have tryouts and cut players. We want participation and we want it to get so big that they can cut girls. You don't want anybody to ever be cut, but you want the participation to be like that."

Holli Van De Wege, a mother of a girl in the Northshore School District said that she took her daughter, who is not in high school yet, to watch all four of the districts high schools play girls flag football at Pop Keeney Stadium.

"To say it was inspiring is an understatement," Van De Wege said. "The accessibility of flag football for girls promotes physical and mental well-being, teamwork and it overall breaks the gender norms our society has on sports."

Girls flag players from around the state shared the same sentiment as Van De Wege.

Emerald Ridge High School Player, Reese added, "Flag football gives girls the opportunity to shine in a sport that has always been designed for boys and it has meant the world to me."

Bailey was asked what the tagline "Future of Football is Female" meant to him, and said, "When you're thinking football, you're not thinking girls. But this opportunity makes it possible for girls to play football all their lives. And if you watch, these girls compete. It's the ultimate competition. It is the future of football."

And players who spent this past season on a girls flag football team have felt the impact, opportunity and competitiveness this sport has given them, even in such a short amount of time.

"Playing football with this team has introduced me to some of my best friends in the world," Emerald Ridge High School Player, Jayda said. "This team has been such a beautiful loving second family to me and I know that it's a mutual feeling between all of us. Being a part of the inaugural season has been such a blessing, it's just so cool to pave the way for other younger generations… This was a season to remember and goes to show that girls shouldn't be underestimated."

Now, in a week, from May 1-10, WIAA will decide whether the sport will be sanctioned in Washington.

Kealey Stanich, Inglemoor High School Athletic Director said girls flag is "the next big thing," adding that everyone needs to get on board.

"This is the start of something that will bring more unity to the female sports offered not only in Washington but in the nation. Anyone can play, and anyone can be successful in flag football. We need to start moving with the curve of sports in Washington state, and girls flag football is the ship we hop on."

The North Puget Sound League began their first Girl's High School Flag Football season on Saturday, January 20 at Highline Stadium in Burien, WA.