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Girls' flag football: Fan-favorite sport more inclusive - FlagSpin

Girls’ flag football: Fan-favorite sport more inclusive

MAPLE HEIGHTS, Ohio (WJW) — Girls’ flag football is one of the fastest-growing sports in the country. Young women, like the players at Maple Heights High School, are leading the way.

The Mustangs are gearing up for the start of their second season of girls’ flag football. Three years ago, the sport barely existed. 

In 2023, there were more than two dozen teams competing in Northeast Ohio. That number is expected to double this spring. 

Maple Heights Coach Kanisha Coward said it’s a matter of providing an opportunity that didn’t exist and then, “Just getting the word out and letting girls know that they can do anything.”

Recruiting wasn’t too tough for Coward, who is a teacher and girls basketball coach at Maple Heights. She also played professional tackle football with the Cleveland Fusion.

Her experience makes players like 11th Grader Solecia Williams less intimidated to try something new. 

She said, “It gives me more confidence because she played it, helping us be better at it.”

Senior Brandi’Anna Freeman agrees. She said, “It motivates us to do better.”

Coach Coward believes the inclusivity of the sport is key.

“You know, everybody could run. Anybody could pull a flag.  So you find something that you’re good at and hold onto it and you perfect that skill,” she said.

A chance to meet with a member of the Cleveland Browns staff brought it all together.

Coward said, “I met Hannah. It was really random,” about her initial conversation with Hannah Lee, the Browns Youth Football Coordinator.

Coward went on, “We were playing two-man touch in a social league and she was like, I really want to start getting women and kids involved in high school football.”

She told Lee, “I teach at a high school and I coach basketball. I can try to help you out.”

In her short time with the Browns, Lee has become a driving force behind girls’ flag football in Northeast Ohio. 

She has helped grow the number of girls’ flag football teams in the area from nine in 2022 to 30 in the spring of 2023.

“To have a front-row seat to it has been really exciting,” she said.

The Cleveland Browns are fully behind the effort, creating access for new teams, hosting clinics and offering up mentors, as well as supplying uniforms and equipment. 

In 2022, the Browns hosted the first-ever Girls High School Flag Football Championship Tournament at Browns Stadium.  Since then, interest has grown immensely and participation has surged.

Roughly half a million girls between the ages of 6 and 17 now play flag.

Lee said she gives a lot of credit to players like the girls in Maple Heights who were looking for an opportunity and ran with it. 

“They are really changing the game, and they’re being trailblazers,” she said. “These girls are setting the standard of what girls’ flag looks like and what young women and females can do in sports.”

As they see it, the future of football is female. Players like Senior Cheyenne Mickler are excited to help push the sport to new levels. 

“I feel like we set an example for younger kids coming up and want to play flag football,” she said. “Nothing is impossible. I mean, we made it possible here, so…”

The goal is to make girls’ flag a fully sanctioned OHSAA varsity sport. Eight states already have. 

On the college level, Flag Football is an NAIA emerging sport for women and is being developed jointly with the NFL.

It will be an Olympic sport for both men and women at the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. 

The Browns are hosting a girls’ flag football clinic on Feb. 25. To register, email the Browns at

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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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