Hannah Harvey said there was a point when many didn’t take her sport seriously.
They do now.
Harvey is a member of Franklin’s inaugural girls flag football team in Tennessee. She will cap the season Saturday at Nissan Stadium in a tournament involving the nine Williamson County programs. The tournament kicks off at 10 a.m. with the final at 5 p.m.
“Having this exposure and being able to play at Nissan Stadium for the championship, it just makes us feel seen,” said Harvey, who is also a cheerleader at the school. “People didn’t take it very seriously at first because it’s so unheard of around here, but it’s being backed up by two huge giants in the Titans and the NFL, which makes it legit.
“People really respect the league and what we’re doing because of the names that are behind it.”
BIRTH OF FLAG FOOTBALL:Williamson County Schools, Titans partner for pilot girls flag football program
NFL teams like the Atlanta Falcons and the Titans have given financial support to help get girls flag football off the ground. Nike also is assisting financially.
The Falcons were instrumental in Georgia starting flag football as well as in Alabama, where it played its first year competing statewide with a championship in December prior to the state’s Class 7A football championship. Currently, flag football teams in Alabama aren’t divided into different classifications.
Other states that have sanctioned the sport include Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Nevada and New York.
What NFL hopes to gain from girls flag football
Josh Corey, who works in the Titans community relations department, has helped assist from the Titans side getting flag football off the ground in Tennessee. He said the sport will likely grow next season.
“Females are the fastest growing fan base in the NFL and for our game,” Corey said. “By being able to bring in that audience so early as opposed as waiting until they are older and things like that.
“That’s it mainly, but it’s also about an opportunity to provide for kids that is extremely popular, it’s a lot of fun and hasn’t been present here in Tennessee.”
It has brought high school girls to the NFL as fans at an earlier age. Flag football players are now more involved in football.
“This league has brought a bunch of girls to football, whether they didn’t play before or weren’t as plugged in because they didn’t play with their older brother or dad,” Harvey said. “It’s really interesting now to them.”
Corey said the Titans are exploring adding more school districts next season, but didn’t say where.
“We’d like to also work with the TSSAA and decide once we get ‘X’ number of schools, when will you guys look at sanctioning it as a sport,” Corey said.
What is flag football’s future?
In Tennessee, reclassification talk will begin in June and discussion of adding boys and girls lacrosse may take place later this year starting with the 2023-24 school year. Girls flag football could be held at that time, but that may be rushing it.
“Truthfully, I think we need another year to see what counties pick it up,” TSSAA assistant director Emily Crowell said. “I doubt we’ll wait that long. It looks good numbers-wise. Just the number of girls that tried out in Williamson County was amazing.”
TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress recommended to the Legislative Council that it determine how many schools must be participating in a sport to hold a championship event as it sanctions sports. The state could decide to sanction a sport like girls flag football or others, but not hold championships until a pre-determined percentage of schools are playing.
They could instead hold an invitational, similar to what it did in girls wrestling before it became a sanctioned sport.
Growing the sport is also a priority in Alabama.
“Our schools have been very receptive,” AHSAA executive director Alvin Briggs said. “I think we ended up with 47 schools that participated this previous year and we have more that’s coming.”
But Briggs remains cautious with the sport as it gets out of its infancy.
“My biggest fear is, we do it for one year and the next year we don’t have the same number of teams for whatever reason.”
Tuscaloosa Central’s Chyna Foster became the first AHSAA player to sign a college flag football scholarship this past year.
The two-way player signed with Florida Memorial University. The NAIA sanctioned women’s flag football in 2020 with about 15 schools offering the sport.
“It was unexpected but I knew I wanted to play flag football above the high school level,” Foster said.
Montgomery Advertiser reporter Jacob Shames, Tuscaloosa News reporter Jerell Rushin and Middle Tennessee high school sports writer Joe Spears of USA Today Sports contributed to this story.