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It's good to see flag football on the rise in our high schools - FlagSpin

It’s good to see flag football on the rise in our high schools

Soon they will learn the spin and reverse. Also the spinning wheel, the back atcha, the read and react, and the bulldozer — and maybe even a few others I haven’t thought of.

But how wonderful it is to see that our local high school athletics scene has added girls flag football to the offerings.

Flag football has taken off like hot cakes, with the NFL now backing and promoting it, and even (you ready for this?) talks of it being tested as an Olympic sport in the upcoming games. Wow. That is rare air for a sport previously thought of as a recreational backyard game.

We now have teams competing in many of our high schools (including Glenbrook South, Loyola and New Trier), and it is sure to soon be an official IHSA sport, complete with state championship and playoffs.

Our sports reporter extraordinaire here at the Herald, Dave Oberhelman, gave you a great front page story on the sport last week. A detailed account of how girls flag football has taken off here both locally and nationwide.

With today’s column, I will attempt to take you a little deeper into the inner workings of the game of this growing sport. And, yes, I will give an explanation to those weird-sounding maneuvers described at the beginning of this column.



For me personally, my flag football roots run deep.

Way back in 1980, when I got my first job out of college as athletic director for the Glenview Park District, the very first sport I ever coached here was a fifth/sixth grade youth flag football team. In fact, current park district board Commissioner Dan Peterson was one of the young officials at that time — and a good one at that!

Additionally, I will never forget officiating in this same flag football league a couple years later, when my blue emergency pager (older folks will remember, pre-cellphones) started beeping indicating my wife, with our first baby due, was officially in labor and ready to go to the hospital.

I, in a state of semi-shock, calmly placed the ball down at the line of scrimmage and told the kids good luck — and then sprinted for my car.

There was also a VERY competitive Glenview men’s flag football league back then with 14 teams competing on two different nights. Many were former high school and college players, so the level of play was way beyond anything I had ever experienced with flag football. It was brutal from a physical standpoint, and to say fights would break out on occasion would be like saying Shohei Ohtani is a pretty good baseball player.

I, too, remember running a Northbrook Park District flag football program back then, at the same time I was teaching physical education at Pleasant Ridge School in Glenview. I set up a special “under the lights” game between our Pleasant Ridge kids vs. the Northbrook kids and still remember how I tried to coach both teams — which did not work well, because the parents and kids of both teams couldn’t understand why I was helping “the other team.”



If memory serves me correct, current Glenbrook South coach David Schoenwetter was part of that organized mayhem as a young sixth grader.

For many years, in my post-college, pre-married days, I would wake up early on Sunday mornings to play in a regular flag football game with friends. Not always an easy task, as waking up early on Sunday mornings after a late Saturday night out on the town could be a real struggle. But there were flags to pull and footballs to catch, so I soldiered on, even in something of a morning fog.

As I said, my flag football roots run deep.

Maybe most significantly for the story at hand, I had the pleasure of coaching a women’s flag football team back then in a Morton Grove league. This was a very competitive league featuring some of the best female athletes in the area.

It was a great experience, and we won a lot of games (any time you had the Monckton sisters from Glenview on your team a “W” was fairly easily attained), but here is the bigger take-away from that experience: All of these women, who at the time were in their mid-twenties and all outstanding athletes, did NOT have the opportunities the young girls have today.

These talented women never got to realize their full athletic potential because female sports at the time were just getting started. There were no travel teams, no club teams, no summer sports camps for them.

Playing sports back then for young women wasn’t the popular thing to do as it is now. The sports offerings were minimal, the level of play mediocre, participation was sparser, while the coaching was sometimes (to be kind) not quite top-quality level.

All that, of course, has changed. Girls and women’s sports are thriving now more so than at any time in the past, with this new flag football league just the latest in a long list of possibilities for girls.

A solid trend and one that will hopefully continue.

OK, and now? The highly anticipated breakdown of the weird sounding special flag football moves described above: Feel free to take notes.

The Spin and Reverse: This one is common for all flag football players, where when you are about to be “tackled” (the flag on your side is about to be pulled off by the defender) you quickly flip-turn the hip away from the reaching hand and then spin and reverse directions while continuing to sprint down the field.

The Spinning Wheel: This one’s a little trickier. (Warning: do not try this one at home unless adult supervision is present.) The “spinning wheel” is at it sounds. You run through the ensuing defensive “traffic” by just going into a constant spin while still moving forward. Yes, it slows you down a bit, but the combination of the confusing spinning visual and the rapidly moving body parts can sometimes cause defensive players to freeze a bit, thus making your flag hard to locate and pull.

The Back Atcha: An advanced technique used when a faster defender is chasing you from behind. You surprise them by turning to face them while still backpedaling toward your intended goal line. Again, this means you go a bit slower, but now you can see the defender and, more importantly, see which flag they are going for and, as a result, avoid said flag pull with a sort of reverse-reverse spin. Brilliant!

The Bulldozer: Simple and less complicated. Instead of going around the defender you go through them. Run straight at them, forcing them to freeze, and now you make your move before they can choose which flag to pull.

There are a few more sneaky flag football techniques, but that should be enough to get our young future stars started.

In all sincerity, I do wish the girls playing on our teams this year — the ones gutsy enough to try out this new sport offering — the best of luck!

You girls are pioneers. The first to take a crack at it. Hopefully, sometime down the road, when girls flag football (dare we say guys, too?) is a popular high school sport, the current group of players will be able to look back and proudly say, “We were the first!”

• Jon Cohn of Glenview is a coach, retired PE teacher, sports official and prep sports fan. To contact him with comments or story ideas, email


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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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