Girls flag football is a possible route to higher education

Flag football is one of the fastest-growing sports in the nation, and now among the new sports added to the Olympics for the 2028 games in Los Angeles. Here in Colorado, the sport is really taking off for high school girls.

 / Credit: CBS
/ Credit: CBS

Last year, the Colorado High School Athletic Association launched a two-year pilot program for girls flag football.  Some 22 metro area schools signed on, and this season that number more than doubled to over 50 high schools. While flag football is not a CHSAA-sanctioned sport yet, it's on the brink and could be a pathway for more young girls to go to college.

"I love it! It's a whole new experience," Sophie Matthews said with a big smile. "I went out and got my physical because I was determined. I was like, 'I'm playing this sport right away.'"

Matthews is a junior at Chaparral High School in Parker which offered girls flag football for the first time this fall. She and some of her classmates didn't think twice about signing up.

"Oh my gosh, I love it!" said fellow junior Addy Landgren. "I play basketball, too, but this has just been super fun getting to know other girls that have played other sports."

Some of the younger classmen who, until now, didn't play sports at all also joined the team.

"Everybody was like, 'Why don't we just try it?'" sophomore Victoria Sierra told CBS News Colorado's Kelly Werthmann.

That 'why not' attitude is a big reason why the Denver Broncos are helping lead the charge to get girls flag football in more Colorado schools. Bobby Mestas is the Broncos director of youth and high school football and explained the team jumped at the chance to support the sport – financially and otherwise.

"It's just giving girls another opportunity to be part of high school athletics. Data shows that when girls get to high school they tend to drop out of sports," Mestas said. "A lot of these girls have never played [flag football] before, but they go out there and they work hard, learn their skills and quickly have success."

Mestas explained the Denver Broncos Foundation provided financial aid to all schools that picked up girls flag football. Big companies including Nike and USA Football also stepped in to make sure the teams all had uniforms and necessary equipment.

"Starting up a new sport is never easy for schools, there's a lot of funding involved," Mestas explained. "We try to do our best to take those anxieties out of playing by helping them where we can."

Mestas is passionate about not just growing the game of football but getting more girls and young women involved on every level of the sport. He wants to see more girls play as well as coach and officiate.

 / Credit: CBS
/ Credit: CBS

"It's great to see how the schools are starting to embrace it," he said. "This is no longer just a boy's sport, girls can play, too. They want to have fun."

And a lot of that fun happens at the Broncos' facility, the Centura Health Training Center – more commonly referred to as Dove Valley. Since the girls flag football pilot program launched, the Broncos have hosted competitions, including the state championships, at the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse.

"That was the coolest thing ever!" said Matthews. "We got to go to the Broncos facility and meet the players, and it was just cools seeing big companies helping support us and helping support our dreams."

Now those dreams are a possible route to higher education. More than a dozen NAIA colleges are offering girls flag football scholarships, and some Division II and III colleges may soon do the same.

"I believe there are currently 15 NAIA colleges that offer girls flag as a scholarship collegiate sport, which is very, very cool," Mestas said. "We've had a few out to watch our playoff regionals, and we have a few coming to our state championship, so they're around."

And that potential collegiate opportunity just gives young athletes like the girls at Chaparral High School even more reason to showcase their flag football talents.

"Everybody is putting in so much work and effort, so getting to that next level would be so cool," Landgren said.

 / Credit: CBS
/ Credit: CBS

Call it a flag on the play – one signaling a great change in the game, and who's on the field.

"It went from like, 'Wow, girls playing football? That's crazy!'," said Matthews. "Now it's like all of Colorado is coming together and all of us girls are working together to be doing this."

The girls flag football season ended last week, but there is a lot of hope it will come back next school year. And, if CHSAA's Legislative Council votes on adding the sport in April, girls flag football could become a sanctioned sport as early as fall of 2024. 

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