A girls flag football program that started with 19 high schools in Gwinnett County has spread throughout Georgia like chicken and waffles.
This is the third year the Georgia High School Association has officially sanctioned the cool new sport. More than 240 schools are signed up for 2022.
Girls championship games are played at college stadiums and televised statewide, just like the boys.
“The response has been overwhelming,” Dr. James R. Hines Jr., the GHSA executive director, said of the 7-on-7 competition.
Georgia is one of eight states with sanctioned girls flag football. Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Nevada, New Jersey and New York are the others with Montana among the states on deck.
Sadly, during a week in which the nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of equal sports access for women via Title IX, there is only mild official interest in football-mad South Carolina.
“So many girls grow up in South Carolina going to college football games every Saturday, from the coast to the mountains. They love football,” said Michael G. Fanning, athletic director for the South Carolina Independent School Association.
SCISA, Fanning said, has between four and 10 firm commitments from member high schools interested in girls flag football for 2022 – with Porter-Gaud in Charleston and Hammond in Columbia among the most enthusiastic. SCISA wants at least six schools on board to start play.
The North Charleston Police Department started a delightful (but non-sanctioned) high school girls flag football program that grew to eight schools and 240 players by 2019.
But other girls and families tied to the South Carolina High School League, the ruling body of athletics for S.C. public schools, are on the sidelines.
“Nothing has been presented by the membership about girls flag football,” SCHL Commissioner Dr. Jerome Singleton told The Post and Courier.
The Palmetto State (aka The Carolina-Clemson Rivalry State) is missing out on a grand opportunity to get more students involved in sports at a time when America needs as many kids involved in something productive as possible.
Girls just wanna have sports fun.
The more sports, the merrier.
An S.C. high school embrace of flag football surely will trickle down to middle school and recreation league popularity.
This should be easier than 1st-and-goal from the 1 against sunflowers.
But the worst part of South Carolina’s lack of flag football interest is passing on the bargain price. The NFL and Nike are eager to help fund the sport all over the country.
‘It’s been amazing’
The Atlanta Falcons pitched in with the start-up in Georgia and Alabama, and remain a strong partner in both states. Through a need-based system, they have provided coaching clinics and fees for officials.
Nike’s contributions include uniforms, socks and sports bras.
“I can’t say enough about our partnership with the Falcons,” Hines said. “This is something that (Falcons president and CEO) Rich McKay and (owner) Arthur Blank have generously taken an interest in.”
In North Carolina, the Carolina Panthers this spring sponsored a flag football program for Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools that ended in May with a championship game at the Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium.
Fanning has talked with the Panthers “several times” and likes what he hears about their willingness to help SCISA fund flag football.
Surely, that offer extends to public high school leagues in the Carolinas.
The sooner the better, based on the North Charleston Police Department experience. Championship games have been played at Charleston Southern, accompanied by food trucks and the mascots of Charleston’s professional sports teams.
When the program had to idle in 2020 and 2021 for COVID-19 reasons, parents complained.
“It’s been amazing,” North Charleston Police Department Major Angela Johnson said. “It’s done so much for the community.”
Johnson said former players who have gone on to college frequently stop by the police department to thank police department personnel for their role as coaches and officials.
High schools signed up for North Charleston’s 2022 re-start include North Charleston, Hanahan, Stall, Military Magnet and Academic Magnet, with some Dorchester County schools also expected back.
Of course, adding a new sport often makes coaches in existing sports a little nervous. They don’t want to lose athletes, just as some baseball and football people were afraid of soccer, and some soccer people were worried about lacrosse.
And some lacrosse people fear field hockey.
For SCISA, Fanning hopes to thread a needle by experimenting with one of two flag football schedule models: an early fall sport starting in August or a shorter six-week season later in the fall. The idea is to avoid drawing too many athletes away from cross country, volleyball and basketball.
Whatever works. But max participation is good for a high school, a community, a country.
They seem to get that in New York and New Jersey. The New York Jets X Nike Girls Flag Football League just completed its second season as the first official girls league in both states: 43 schools, five conferences and counting.
High school girls are getting more opportunities and having more fun in Montana, too. Blank, the Falcons’ owner best known as co-founder of Home Depot, owns property in the state. He has lent NFL support to Montana’s flag football effort.
South Carolina falling behind Georgia and Alabama in any kind of high school football activity is one thing.
But, wow, Big Sky Country?
That should prompt the same reaction that would come with the Montana State Bobcats upsetting the South Carolina Gamecocks the same autumn Saturday the University of Montana Grizzlies stun the Clemson Tigers.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.