Head coach Cherrelle Pass and her girls flag football team made history at Clarke Central High School this year.

Pass is a PE teacher at Clarke Central and initiated the program in spring 2022.

One of Pass’ former students asked her why the Gladiators don’t have a flag football team since it has been a sanctioned sport since 2020 in Georgia. This sparked Pass’ attention and she spoke to Clarke Central’s athletic director about implementing a team.

The athletic director’s follow-up question was who would be the coach.

“I would,” Pass said. (She played on a flag football team out of Atlanta back in 2015.)

Fifty-five girls came out to the first meeting in April. Twenty-four of them made the roster.

Since May 22 the girls have been conditioning and working on their fundamentals. The team practiced twice a week for the months of June and August. Pass said none of the girls had any experience with the sport before joining the team.

I was really pushing the fact that it’s inaugural year, whoever makes the team will be making history,” Pass said.

Flag football is a non-contact sport and the dangers are no different than other sports like basketball or soccer. The only difference between flag football and tackle football is the physical contact aspect. Tackling is not allowed in flag football.

Everything started after the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation formed a girls flag football league for 19 Georgia Gwinnett County high schools which played their first season in 2019. Three years later, almost 200 high schools have a flag football team. Other Athens-Clarke County high schools such as Athens Academy, North Oconee and Oconee County added flag football to their athletic programs this year.

According to Sports Business Journal, each school is eligible for grants worth up to $10,000. Clarke Central was one of the schools who received a grant, and that funding made it possible for the Gladiators to start their program, Pass said.

Taclivea Francois drops back to pass during flag football practice at Clarke Central High School. (Photo/Isabella Holpfer)

Farrell Hyde, a ninth-grader on the flag football team at Clarke Central, said flag football empowers many female athletes by proving that any girl can play a predominantly male sport.

“I think it shows that any girl can do sports that boys do, and that we can go out on the field and show them what we can do and who we are,” Hyde said.

After Hyde’s first season on the flag football team, she said she will continue to play the sport throughout high school and might consider playing it in college.

On the collegiate level, the NCAA does not sponsor the sport, but the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics kicked off its inaugural season in spring 2021 with 15 universities participating. The sport hasn’t been recognized by the NCAA yet, so no NCAA schools offer women’s flag football. The NAIA, NFL Flag and the Atlanta Falcons hosted the inaugural 2021 NAIA women’s flag football final at Mercedes-Benz Stadium where Ottawa University beat Keiser University 7-6.

Internationally, flag football is gaining more attention. Diana Flores, quarterback of the Mexican National team, won gold with her team at the 2022 World Games and has gone viral on social media. According to All News Press, the goal of the NFL is to add flag football to the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Pass’ goal was to qualify for the state playoff game this year. The Gladiators were fifth in their region just missing the cut as only the top four teams compete in the state championship.

Pass said the future looks very promising. “This is Athens, Georgia, the saying is ‘Saturday in Athens,’ girls grow up watching siblings, brothers, cousins, fathers play football,” Pass said. “I think a lot of young ladies take pride in knowing that they could play a sport that they see especially growing up in Athens.”

Isabella Holpfer is studying journalism at the University of Georgia.

 

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