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Flag Football is Anything but Flagging | Sports - FlagSpin

Flag Football is Anything but Flagging | Sports

Flag football is having a moment. Last month, the International Olympic Committee announced that flag football will make its debut as an official Olympic sport at the 2028 Summer Games, to be held in Los Angeles. 

In flag football, there is no tackling. A ball carrier is considered down and play stops as soon as a defender pulls away a “flag,” or colorful ribbon, that is velcroed to the runner’s belt. The National Football League, that temple of tackle football, is shifting their Pro Bowl to a flag football game this season, with Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning instrumental in organizing and coaching the match. 

NFL players are lining up to play flag football in the Olympics, with the Miami Dolphins’ Tyreek Hill, just one of the high-profile stars who has expressed interest in playing in the Olympics, is also sponsoring a youth flag football league in five Florida cities, and former Tampa Bay Bucs and New England Patriots standout Rob Gronkowski is lobbying for a spot on the USA squad. CNN reported that girls’ flag football was the fastest-growing high school sport in the state in 2022.

Closer to home, flag football is also enjoying a surge of attention and action. The Optimist Club of Marco Island has just finished up their flag football season for nearly 100 children from kindergarten through sixth grade. Chris Savarino, who with his wife Jaime is heading up the Optimist effort, said they are reinvigorating a program that had languished since previous club president Meg Bonos moved away. 


Second to fourth grade action. Optimist Club flag football has just concluded its season on Marco Island.

“It’s coming back around. We’re gathering up more moms and dads – there’s a new wave of families on Marco Island,” said Savarino. They had approximately 100 players for flag football this season, with teams divided up K–first grade, second to fourth, and fifth and sixth grade, as well as a middle school division with two teams. The season ran from August through early November, with games played at Mackle Park. All levels were open to girls and boys, although the middle school level ended up all-male.

And Marco Island Charter Middle School Activities Director Matt Huneke is having conversations about starting up a school-centered flag football league at the middle school level. 

“There are no middle schools in Collier County that field a flag football team now, but I would change that if I could,” said Huneke. “We’d like to put together a middle school flag football team. I know MIA (Marco Island Academy) is looking for kids coming up who are knowledgeable. I’m hoping we can do our part as a feeder school.” 


The first place 4th to 6th grade Miami Hurricanes. Optimist Club flag football has just concluded its season on Marco Island.

Huneke said he has two avenues he can take. 

“I was in conversation with two schools in Lee County. We could play at North Collier Regional Park and Three Oaks Park. They have intramural players from FGCU acting as refs for the game.” 

The other possibility involves partnering with Lorna McLain, who is working to put together a flag football league with players from K–8, focusing on girls. RISE Flag Football is sponsored by apparel maker Under Armour – who appropriately includes an Under Armour game shirt and shorts with each registration. The games are slated to be played beginning January 19 and continuing on Friday nights through March 8, with all contests slated for the Paradise Sports Complex on City Gate Blvd. in Naples. 

According to the RISE website, there are no tryouts or drafts; rosters are formed by friend or coach requests, with single players placed on teams with similar schools or neighborhoods. The co-ed teams will have 8 to 10 players each, so everyone plays in every game. 

McLain, whose day job is Director of Community Impact for St. Matthew’s House, is involved in making the RISE program happen in Collier County. She got interested, she said, after her daughter played flag football all through high school. 

“I love sports and my daughter is very into it. Kids, especially girls, need to have more avenues for sports, and I felt we had to have more female presence.” 

Flag football, she said, is “a good way to start without having the child injured, and a great way to ease parents into it. And young athletes can do flag football to stay active in the winter without causing injuries.” 


The seventh and eighth grade players with their high school student coaches. Optimist Club flag football has just concluded its season on Marco Island.

Many parents have embraced flag football as a safer alternative to traditional tackle football for their offspring, but the question of whether the flag version is safer is a hot topic of debate. A 2017 study by the University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center found that “flag players had higher rates of injuries and that the differences in concussion and other serious injuries were really no different.” But a 2021 study from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reported that “youth tackle football athletes ages 6 to 14 sustained 15 times more head impacts than flag football athletes” and 23 times more “high-magnitude head impact (hard head impact).” 


A run sweeps wide to the right. Optimist Club flag football has just concluded its season on Marco Island.

Flag football also requires considerably less equipment than tackle football.

Taking the country by storm, from the Olympics to the NFL, to schools and community parks all across the country – it’s almost as if flag football is the equivalent of pickleball for the pre-teen set. Expect to see a lot more of it coming soon to a field near you.

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Travis Burnett

Travis Burnett

A pioneer in the flag football community, Travis helped co-found the Flag Football World Championship Tour, FlagSpin and USA Flag. Featuring 15+ years of content creation for the sport of flag football, creating and managing the largest flag football tournaments on the planet, coaching experience at the youth and adult level as well as an active player with National and World Championship level experience.

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