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Bishop Foley’s Barnes, girls flag football in spotlight at NFL Draft – The Oakland Press - FlagSpin

Bishop Foley’s Barnes, girls flag football in spotlight at NFL Draft – The Oakland Press

Madison Heights Bishop Foley’s Ayla Barnes, right, competes in a girls flag football game held at Ford Field in Detroit in 2023. Barnes is set to help announce the Lions’ first-round pick in the NFL Draft taking place this week in downtown Detroit. (Photo courtesy Bishop Foley High School)

Flag football’s recent explosion in popularity led to a touchdown of an opportunity for Madison Heights Bishop Foley senior Ayla Barnes.

Wednesday night was a normal one for Barnes, who played in the Ventures’ softball doubleheader (and had an RBI double). On Thursday, she was set to trade her bat for a microphone and help announce the Lions’ first-round pick in the NFL Draft being held this week in Detroit.

“I can’t tell if I feel nervous or excited,” said Barnes, who recently found out that she would have the once-in-a-lifetime moment in the middle of a school day. “Sometimes they get mixed together … I don’t think I grasped how big and important the draft is for many people when I got the information. It took me a couple days to realize what it really was about. My dad showed me some pictures from previous drafts and it finally sunk in.”

Football is anything but new to her and her family. Ayla’s dad, Brian, is not only a varsity head coach – previously for the Ventures, now at Waterford Kettering – but helped get the Michigan Girls High School Flag Football Pilot League off the ground.

NFL Draft first-round pick tracker

Ayla is representing Foley for being one of the first four schools to participate in 2023. Her mom, Stephanie, has taken over coaching the team, which this spring will compete in its second season in a league that has quickly expanded to 24 programs (Ford Field will once again host games for the league on May 11 and May 19). Stephanie is no stranger to the game either, having played for the Detroit Demolition, which competed in the National Women’s Football League and Independent Women’s Football League in the 2000s and won multiple championships.

Along with powerlifting, as well as involvement in volleyball and basketball, Ayla was also the lead equipment manager for the Ventures’ varsity football team, which led to increased interest in the sport. She said that flag football started as a fun way to learn the game, and it gave her and other girls a chance to be part of something different.

“Our boys got to play at Ford Field for the Prep Bowl twice, so I love that our girls got to have the same opportunity,” Bishop Foley admissions director Trevor Tyle said. “We’re co-ed, so I think being able to send a strong message that our male and female students have the same opportunities is really important — not only for sports, or during their time in high school, but beyond that realm as well.”

If fantasy football has been a driver for NFL popularity among females in recent years, involvement in the sport through flag football at a younger age may somehow raise the ceiling on interest going forward.

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