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Girls’ flag football is coming to the Sac-Joaquin Section. Here’s what you should know - FlagSpin

Girls’ flag football is coming to the Sac-Joaquin Section. Here’s what you should know

The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) voted unanimously in early February to make girls’ flag football an official high school sport statewide. Now things are coming together in the Sac-Joaquin Section.

The CIF, the governing body for high school sports in California, voted to make flag football an official sport statewide Friday, Feb. 3, making California one of the growing number of states to offer an official competitive football option for high school girls, joining the likes of Alabama and Nevada. The state of New York also came to a similar ruling in the same week as the CIF. Schools can begin competition starting this fall.

“It’s exciting to add a new sport, and it’s doubly exciting to add a sport for girls that is very similar to (tackle) football, which has traditionally been more of a boys sport,” said Sac-Joaquin Section Assistant Commissioner Will DeBoard. “It’s also been exciting to see all of the early interest.”

A number of schools in the Stanislaus District and surrounding areas are already jumping at the chance to have teams this fall and are actively putting together schedules, coordinating summer practices and ordering equipment. DeBoard says around one third of the section’s schools initially reached out in the spring saying they were planning to field a team. It is possible more schools will form teams before the new school year starts. The section is expecting even more schools, including Modesto City Schools, will join in spring 2024.

Like any sport, teams will compete against each other in leagues with the chance at advancing to the postseason. Similar to tackle football, the summer period started June 1. Flag football’s summer period ends July 9. Patterson High held its first practice June 14 and other schools start summer practice in the coming weeks.

The section-mandated dead period begins July 10 and lasts until July 31, when teams can have their first official practice. The first contest date is Aug. 18.

Who will play?

So far at least 19 schools from the Modesto area to the Merced area have confirmed with the Sac-Joaquin Section office that they will field teams this fall along with nearly every school in the Tri-City Athletic League and San Joaquin Athletic League — made up of Stockton and Tracy-area schools.

As of mid-June leagues have not been finalized. However the section is working with schools to have each team placed in a league by the time the season kicks off on the first contact date, Aug. 18.

Stanislaus District schools that The Bee received word will be participating are: Central Catholic, Central Valley, Ceres, Escalon, Orestimba and Patterson. Schools in the Central California Athletic League are planning to field teams in 2024 and will use this year to find players to field rosters and train coaches.

Patterson will play a familiar schedule as the entire Central California Conference will field flag football teams this year. The Tigers will play Atwater, Buhach Colony, Central Valley, El Capitan, Golden Valley and Merced with the possibility of adding one other school.

Modesto and Merced-area teams participating this fall:

  • Argonaut

  • Atwater

  • Buhach Colony

  • Central Catholic

  • Central Valley

  • Ceres

  • El Capitan

  • Escalon

  • Golden Valley

  • Livingston

  • Los Banos

  • Manteca

  • Mariposa

  • Merced

  • Millennium

  • Mountain House

  • Orestimba

  • Pacheco

  • Patterson

Who will coach?

Because flag football is a new sport in the Sac-Joaquin Section, everyone is learning the rules together.

When a number of Stanislaus District schools introduced boys’ volleyball teams in spring 2023, girls’ volleyball coaches jumped at the opportunity to help build their school’s respective programs. While having boys’ tackle coaches take over new flag football teams would be ideal, it will not happen in football because girls’ flag and boys’ tackle are in the same season.

As a result, winter and spring sport coaches have accepted the call, learning rules to a new sport while teaching football techniques and constructing plays for the first time.

If any school has an upper hand, it may be Colfax. The school will welcome Placer County coaching legend Tony Martello, who according to Gold Country Media stepped down in February 2022 after 26 seasons as the tackle football coach, back to the sidelines.

Martello won 230 games, 16 league championships, four Sac-Joaquin Section titles and a NorCal Regional title with the Falcons. He also won 37 playoff games in 23 playoff appearances and coached teams to 24 winning seasons.

When will they play?

Unlike tackle football, there will not be a set day for all flag football games. Each school will have a maximum of 28 contacts (games) to fill out its season. A 28-game schedule is standard for sports with two games a week (basketball, baseball, softball, etc.). In addition to league and non-league games, some schools will participate in one-day round robin tournaments. Golden Valley (Aug. 26) and Livingston (Aug. 31) will each host early-season events bringing a large number of teams from the southern part of the Sac-Joaquin Section together.

Patterson is scheduled to play 14 league games with four non-league contests. The team will also attend the Livingston tournament, giving them a schedule that could include 24 total games. A number of schedules feature a Tuesday/Thursday game with the occasional game Monday or Wednesday in some weeks.

Because freshman football teams play Thursday nights, some girls’ flag football teams will play at home when the school’s freshman football team is on the road and vice versa. Others will play a flag-tackle double header where the girls take the field before the boys.

Key rules

Flag is vastly different from tackle. Teams will play 7-on-7 where every offensive player outside of the quarterback is eligible to catch a downfield pass. Teams must start the game with seven players, but can play with as few as five. Here are a few differences that you will see when attending games this fall:

Game length

  • Two 20-minute running halves with a five minute halftime

  • Running clock until the last two minutes of each half. The game clock will start on the snap following the stoppage for notification of two-minute warning.

  • Each team will have two timeouts per half with no carry-over from the first half to the second half or the second half to overtime.

  • A coin toss determines the first choice of options to receive or defer.

Playing Field

  • Width: 30 yards minimum to 40 yards maximum

  • Length: 50 yards minimum to 80 yards maximum plus two end zones (10 yards each)

  • No-Run Zones are located five yards from each End Zone and five yards from each line-to-gain

Other rules:

  • A play is blown dead where an offensive player has her flag pulled or where the ball touches the ground.

  • In an attempt to limit injuries, no excessive contact will be allowed. On offense no blocking is allowed and on defense, up to two players can rush from any position on the field if they are seven yards behind the line of scrimmage. Rushers must avoid contact with offensive players and are not allowed to hit the quarterback or her arm at any point during the throwing motion.

  • In overtime, teams will alternate possessions, starting at the 20-yard line. The line to gain is always the goal line even if a penalty enforcement places the ball more than 20 yards from the goal line to start a new series of downs. Each team will have at least one possession during each overtime unless B scores first. If team A scores first, team B will be given a series of downs from their 20-yard-line.

  • No-Run Zones are located five yards from each end zone and five yards from each line-to-gain. No run zones are designed to avoid short-yardage, power-running situations to help avoid blocks/screens and excessive contact.

  • A player may not leave her feet to avoid a flag from being pulled.

  • No kickoffs or punts

  • Teams start each possession on their 20-yard line (10-yard line for 50 yard fields).

  • On fourth down, the offensive team must declare whether they are “punting” or going for the first down prior to expiration of the play clock. If they elect to “punt”, the defense will take possession of the football on their 20-yard line. If the offense goes for the first down and does not reach the line-go-gain, the defense will take over where the play was blown dead

Will there be playoffs?

Yes! The Sac-Joaquin Section will have playoffs. Section bylaws state that in order to have a postseason in most sports, 30% of the schools must field a team.

Just like all other established sports, top teams will advance to the postseason for the chance at taking home a title. According to the section’s website, playoff games are Oct. 24 and 26 and Nov. 1 and 4. Playoff format is still being worked on, but tentatively, schools that qualify will be divided into two eight-team divisions and will compete in a single-elimination postseason tournament.

“There was just so much interest (in flag football) right away and so many schools were committed to doing it that we decided we’re going to have a postseason right away,” DeBoard said.

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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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