The NEO girls flag football schedule is going to kick off this weekend with 30 teams from 21 schools signed up to play. (Paul DiCicco – For The News-Herald)
The popularity of high school girls flag football contineus to grow at a rapid rate as the 2023 season prepares for its season-opening games this weekend.
After nine teams took part in last year’s season, this year there are 30 teams from 21 schools that are taking part in girls flag football sponsored by NEO Flag Football and the Cleveland Browns.
It’s a growth that Bob Berwald, NEO Flag vice president, hoped to see but didn’t necessarily see happening so quickly.
“We have 30 teams this year. Some schools have more than one team,” Berwald said. “I didn’t see it coming so quickly. I was hoping for mid-teens this year. There was honestly interest from more schools, but for one reason or another they couldn’t do it this year. But yeah, the interest is very high.”
Girls flag football through NEO Flag breathed its first breaths two years ago with a smattering of schools playing at Jerome T. Osborne Stadium the spring of 2021. A year ago, the Browns threw their support behind the league, which grew to nine teams and featured a playoff series held at FirstEnergy Stadium.
This year, things are looking bigger and better than ever, with the Browns and Nike again providing uniforms for all the teams, while the Browns foot the bill for officials and field rentals.
The league has grown to the point that the games are being held at different locations. For instance, this weekend’s games, held Sunday, April 2, will be held at both Mentor’s JTO and at Bedford.
The April 2 games are:
At Bedford: Shaker Heights A vs. Strongsville at 8:50 a.m.; Shaker A vs. Bedford A and Shaw vs. Maple A at 9:40 a.m.; VASJ vs. Bedford B, Euclid vs. Warrensville Heights and Shaker B vs. Maple B at 10:30 a.m.; Maple A vs. VASJ, Bedford A vs. Warrensville Heights and Shaw vs. Euclid at 11:20 a.m.
At Mentor: Mentor vs. Akron STEM A and Kirtland vs. Perry White at 4:40 p.m.; Mentor vs. Berkshire, Kirtland vs. Perry Red and Akron STEM B vs. Berkshire JV at 5:30 p.m.; Lake Catholic vs. Perry White, Akron STEM A vs. South and Mentor JV vs. Berkshire JV at 6:20 p.m.; South vs. Berkshire at 7:10 p.m.
All games are played with two 20-minute halves on fields that are 25 yards wide and 53 yards long with seven-yard end zones.
The plan, Berwald said, is for regional tournaments to be held at Shaker Heights and Mayfield in late April with the top four moving on to FirstEnergy Stadium for the playoffs. But those plans, he added, are still in the works to solidify.
“The exposure we got last year was great,” Berwald said, mentioning the playoffs at FirstEnergy Stadium, a showcase scrimmage at halftime of the NFL’s Hall of Fame game and television commercials. “It’s really taken off.
“We wanted to do different sites last year and showcase in different areas. Last year’s games were predominantly at Mentor and Lake Catholic. It’s exciting to spread out to other areas this year.”
The eventual goal, Berwald said, is for the Ohio High School Athletic Association to recognize girls flag football as a sanctioned sport. There is a long way to go to get to that point, Berwald said, but the evolution of the sport continues to give him confidence.
“The Cincinnati area is getting it rolling this fall or next year,” he said, “and Columbus is looking to do it, too. It’s going to continue to grow.”