Wake’s recently launched and touted high school flag football faces an uncertain future

The future of Wake County’s high school flag football program is uncertain, just months after more than 500 female athletes took to the gridiron.

Wake County school administrators have not included funding to pay for women’s flag football coaches in next year’s school budget. But school board member Sam Hershey lobbied Tuesday to restore flag football funding, suggesting changing the budget elsewhere to save the new program.

“We did this fantastic flag football program,” Hershey said during Tuesday’s budget work session. “It was extremely popular. We have a promise in some way to all the girls that played and we’re like, ‘eh this is kind of it.’”

The board will vote on the budget May 7.

Flag football loses to other needs

Wake used a $50,000 grant from the Carolina Panthers to pilot a women’s flag football program this school year at 19 district high schools and the private Cardinal Gibbons High School. The grant paid for the coaches this school year.

Wakefield Ky’Mani Watson (22) runs for yards during a flag football scrimmage at Heritage High School in Wake Forest, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024.
Wakefield Ky’Mani Watson (22) runs for yards during a flag football scrimmage at Heritage High School in Wake Forest, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024.

The Panthers have been awarding money to set up girls flag football teams across the state. The shared objective is to get it sanctioned as a varsity sport by the N.C. High School Athletic Association.

The plan was to include about $132,000 in next school year’s budget to pay Wake’s flag football coaches. But no money for the flag football coaches was in the budget that Superintendent Robert Taylor released last month.

“This business case was removed from consideration for the Superintendent’s Proposed 2024-25 Budget as decisions were made aligning funding priorities with the amount of additional local funding requested,” according to a presentation from school finance staff.

A district spokesperson said that the main direct funding in the budget for any athletic program is for coaching supplements. There is not an increase in funding for athletics this year.

Budget changes proposed

Taylor is proposing a budget that asks the Wake County Board of Commissioners for a $58.3 million increase in local funding this year. Taylor says he had to balance paying for required programs while dealing with the loss of one-time federal COVID aid.

On Tuesday, school board members proposed changes they’d like to see in the budget.

Hershey suggested dropping staff’s proposed $25 cut in the $200 annual high school student parking fee. That parking fee reduction would cost $213,750 in revenue.

Hershey said keeping the parking fee unchanged would help pay for the flag football coaches and for Narcan doses at each school to deal with potential opioid overdoses.

Hershey and other board members suggested cuts in counseling positions, permanent substitute teacher positions and a program that pays staff to watch students at school due to bus delays. The savings would then go toward raising pay for teachers and other school staff.

The board will hold a budget work session April 30 to consider changes to the budget.

“At the end of the day there is nothing in this (budget) book that anybody wants to cut,” said board vice chair Monika Johnson-Hostler. “The reality is it doesn’t matter where you cut. It directly impacts our students.”