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Girls grab football opportunity, run with it | Sports

Go Girl Flag league in Rosemount concludes first season

Just when it looked like interest in football could be maxed out, a group of players on fields outside Rosemount High School are proving otherwise.

They’re part of a trial run for a girls flag football league serving the south metro. By next year the league could expand to other parts of Minnesota, and even Wisconsin. Created by Rosemount head football coach Jeff Erdmann, the Go Girl Flag Football League concluded its inaugural season for players in grades 6-12 this week. More than 100 girls took part.

Some were playing the game for the first time and looked at it as an informal opportunity to exercise, have some fun and hang around friends. The other end of the spectrum was Team Alabama in the grade 6-8 league, whose uniforms included forearm bands on which plays were drawn, not unlike high school football, college football or the NFL.

And there were some who believe it’s in their best interest to learn more about the game. Rosemount’s cheerleading coach steered some of the team members toward the flag football league.

“We have a couple of soccer players on our (flag) team, and the rest of us are on the cheerleading squad,” said incoming Rosemount junior Mackenna Hartley, who also plays hockey and competes in track and field. “Our cheerleading coach thought it would be good for us to know more about football for when the season comes up.”

It’s a return to the game for Hartley, who said she played football with her brothers in the street outside their home.

Hartley shook her head. “But I can see how this would help with hand-eye coordination,” she said. “You have to communicate with teammates, look around and be aware of what else is happening on the field. And there’s a lot of running, so it’s a good workout.”

Six teams of players in grades 9-12 and 10 teams of players in grades 6-8 participated, playing twice a week in June and July. In response to requests, Erdmann also created a league for girls in grades 3-5 who played during July.

They played 5-on-5, with a quarterback and four eligible receivers. There were no coaches; the players called their own plays and made their own defensive adjustments. Rosemount football players and athletes from other sports volunteered as officials.

Officials were there to encourage the athletes as much as enforce the rules. During league play last week, one official, momentarily forgetting her job required impartiality, reacted to a long touchdown pass with, “Yeah!” followed by, “I mean … “

Flag football is a girls high school varsity sport in Florida. The NFL and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics have collaborated on a program to start 15 women’s college flag football teams. The NFL’s influence also is felt in Minnesota, where the Vikings are promoting making flag football part of the physical education curriculum for girls in elementary and middle schools.

The potential for growth is clear, although Erdmann has said his main reason for starting the league was to open doors that traditionally had been closed to females. Erdmann said his wife Ruth was discouraged from playing football at her elementary school by an administration who said the sport wasn’t for girls.

But Erdmann and others have read the room. Sports organizations that traditionally were all-male now are making room for females.

There were eight female assistant coaches in the NFL in the 2020 season, and in February Sarah Thomas became the first woman to officiate in a Super Bowl. San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon interviewed for the head coaching job with the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers. The Miami Marlins’ Kim Ng is the first female general manager in Major League Baseball history.

Several women now on working on high school football officiating crews in Minnesota. Erdmann hopes to add a female coaching intern to the Rosemount football staff for the 2021 season.

All of that sounds good to incoming Rosemount senior Alexa Ratzlaff. Her main sports are basketball and volleyball, but football has been a big part of family life; her brother Jake won the 2020 Mr. Football award and has signed to play at the University of Wisconsin.

Alexa Ratzlaff plays in the 9-12 flag league and officiates the grade 6-8 games. She was on a team of Rosemount High female athletes that competed in a boys flag football league.

“I never thought this would happen,” she said, “but it’s great to see all the girls playing. I’m seeing a lot of girls playing for the first time, and they just need encouragement. If you encourage them, they’ll become more confident and keep on playing. And that’s what this is all about.”

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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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