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OHSAA won’t sanction girls flag football just yet, but NEO Flag remains driven – News-Herald - FlagSpin

OHSAA won’t sanction girls flag football just yet, but NEO Flag remains driven – News-Herald

Doug Ute, executive director of the Ohio High School Athletic Association, and assistant commissioner Tim Stried discussed the status of high school girls flag football in Ohio on May 9 at the OHSAA headquarters in Columbus (John Kampf – The News-Herald)

COLUMBUS — High school girls flag football will not become a sanctioned sport by the Ohio High School Athletic Association this coming year, but area officials are hoping it will sooner than later.

OHSAA executive director Doug Ute, members of the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, as well as others from around the state were part of a Zoom meeting on May 9 to discuss the groundwork of how girls flag football could become sanctioned by the governing body of prep sports in Ohio.

“Girls (flag football) will not be a sport next year,” Ute said prior to the Zoom meeting in a conference at the OHSAA offices involving media members from around Ohio, “but it doesn’t mean we won’t sponsor it (in the future).”

The NEO Flag Association held its annual playoff tournament at Cleveland Browns Stadium on May 6, when 26 high school varsity teams took part in a tourney in which Kirtland defeated Berkshire in the championship game. But in talking with the media members, Ute said that girls flag football is “kind of the Cleveland scene,” and it has yet to take off in popularity in other areas around the state.

The NEO Flag organization continues its drive to get girls flag football sanctioned by the OHSAA in the near future. (Paul DiCicco - For The News-Herald)
The NEO Flag organization continues its drive to get girls flag football sanctioned by the OHSAA in the near future. (Paul DiCicco – For The News-Herald)

To be sanctioned, Ute said a “certain number” of teams need to be involved around the state and that girls flag football needs to align itself with the bylaws of the high school football coaches association, which Gennine Berwald said has already been done.

Berwald, the wife of NEO Flag vice president and co-founder Bob Berwald — who is also deeply involved with the organization — attended the Zoom meeting with Ute and others.

“It’s already underneath the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association,” Berwald said. “They adopted us under their umbrella, so Doug was happy to hear that.”

A big issue is participation. While there were 26 teams participating in the NEO Flag tournament earlier this week, the only other representation around the state, Berwald said, is the six-team tournament to be held this coming weekend in Cincinnati. That’s a total of 32 teams statewide in tournaments sponsored by the Browns and Bengals.

“I looked up girls field hockey and their state tournament,” Berwald said of one of the OHSAA’s sanctioned sports, “and there were 38 schools.”

She said Ute mentioned to her a desired “S-curve” of participation, which would mean participation in Toledo, Cleveland, Youngstown, Columbus and Cincinnati. So far that hasn’t taken root.

“We’ll work with it and we’ll see,” Ute told the media members. “We have an emerging sport category. You’ve got to have a certain amount of teams. That’s what we did (before sanctioning) lacrosse. We’ll see. It’s really being pushed around the country by the NFL.”

A point to which assistant commissioner Tim Stried noted, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sport or activity get pushed like this one is. I don’t know how much money the NFL is putting into their marketing campaign, but girls wrestling was not this way at all.”

Girls wrestling has been a sanctioned sport via the OHSAA for two years now. Previously it was guided by the state wrestling coaches association.

Bob Berwald said when girls wrestling and boys volleyball were recently sanctioned, they were done so with a formula and format already in place via boys wrestling and girls volleyball. That’s not the case with girls flag football, which is starting from scratch in Ohio.

Currently, there are 11 states that sanction high school girls flag football, with Washington expected to soon become No. 12.

“I was hoping to get a little more feedback (from the OHSAA) as to what our next steps should be,” Gennine Berwald said. “Who else can we reach out to? What else are we able to do? Can you give us names of athletic directors to reach out to?”

The OHSAA has made it clear the steps that need to be taken in order to be sanctioned — growth in the sport and an association. Bob Berwald said he thinks the process is backward.

“They want the work to be done and then they’ll put their stamp on it,” he said. “I think if they (sanction it), we’ll work together on it and it’ll take off.”

Gennine Berwald said the process isn’t over. She said she and the NEO Flag organization are driven to get high school girls flag football sanctioned, whether it is sooner or later.

“We’ll get there. We’re not going to stop,” she said. “We’re going to get this sanctioned and get the girls playing the sport they grew up playing. I hope we can get them that opportunity to play within the next couple of years.”

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