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This is how girls flag football will become a sanctioned sport in NC... and fast - FlagSpin

This is how girls flag football will become a sanctioned sport in NC… and fast

I’m not sure what I expected at the Wake County Schools girls flag football kickoff event with the Carolina Panthers last week, but what I witnessed was more than whatever it was I thought I would see.

I’m not the only one either.

Deran Coe, the district athletic director for the Wake County Public School System, told me he expected a handful of schools to participate in the pilot program this year. Instead, after he presented it to the athletic directors of Wake County high schools, 19 of the district’s 25 high schools fielded teams. Cardinal Gibbons also joined in, bringing the total to 20.

In the first year of the Wake County girls flag football program, over 500 student-athletes will be participating.

“I’ve actually had calls and emails from student-athletes at some of the schools who chose not to participate this year who were a little disappointed and hopeful they’ll jump in next year,” Coe told me at the event.

The Carolina Panthers gave Wake County a $50,000 grant to start the program, which included brand new uniforms for all of the teams. The NFL has gotten behind girls flag football nationwide, and this is not the first time the Panthers have started a program.

Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools became the first district to adopt the sport, thanks to support from the Panthers franchise. Cabarrus County Schools and Union County Schools have since joined. Wake County will be the fourth district to begin a program.

The NFL wants to grow girls flag football nationwide to provide opportunities for female athletes to compete in football. Long term, the NFL hopes to develop lifelong fans of the game. The Carolina Panthers are traversing the state and spending money to grow the sport in hopes of hitting the threshold to ask the N.C. High School Athletic Association to sanction it.

“What Wake County Public Schools is doing this winter in launching their program is the next step in us getting to a point where women’s high school flag (football) can be considered for sanctioning by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, and really that’s our ultimate goal — that in the not too distant future, girls in our state are going to have the opportunity to compete for state championships, representing their school in the sport of girls flag football,” Riley Fields, the Director of Community Relations for the Carolina Panthers, told me.

That’s probably going to happen sooner than most people think, and that’s a big deal. The NCHSAA doesn’t sanction new sports often. This year, the association has sanctioned girls wrestling for the first time. However, prior to this year, lacrosse was the most recent sport sanctioned by the NCHSAA, and that happened during the 2009-2010 school year.

So why do I think this is going to happen fast?

The NCHSAA bylaws require 25% of the full membership or 50% of an individual classification field teams in a given sport before the board of directors can vote to sanction it. Next year, the NCHSAA is slated to have 440 members. That means 110 schools would need to adopt it or half of a class, which would be somewhere in the ballpark of 55 schools — give or take a few depending on the classification.

A total of 36 schools in Cabarrus, Mecklenburg, and Union counties have fielded girls flag football teams. Wake County brings that number to 56. In March, four schools in New Hanover County will join the list, which will make 60. I’ve been told other districts could join later this year.

Most of the schools participating are 4A schools, which could bring the Panthers very close to the threshold of 50% of a single classification as soon as this year.

That does not mean girls flag football will become a sanctioned sport by the NCHSAA this year or next year though. NCHSAA bylaws state that threshold must be met and maintained for two years before the board can vote to sanction a new sport.

Something else happens in two years that could make this process much easier though — realignment.

When the new alignment goes into effect for the 2025-2026 school year, we will move from four classifications to eight classifications. That will significantly drop the threshold sports need to meet in order to be considered for sanctioning. No class will be allowed to have more than 64 schools in it. That means the maximum number of teams needed in a single class for the board to vote on sanctioning it is 32. That threshold has already been met.

So is it possible that girls flag football could be a sanctioned sport in North Carolina in two years? Maybe three years? Absolutely. I’d say it’s even likely.

There is one big caveat to this though. Just because the sport meets that threshold does not mean it is automatically sanctioned. The NCHSAA Board of Directors will have to vote to sanction it, just like it voted to sanction girls wrestling. It’s possible it would be voted down, but I find it highly unlikely. The momentum behind the sport nationally, the support from the Carolina Panthers, and the fact that discussions are already being had between districts about logistics of sanctioning makes this a near certainty at some point.

There will be things that have to be sorted out. A big one will be when the season is held. Nationally, eight states have already sanctioned the sport and two more are expected to join that list this year. Five states play girls flag football in the fall, two states play it in the spring, and one plays it in the winter.

Wake County begins its inaugural season on Jan. 27. New Hanover County picks it up on March 16. And the dominoes are likely to continue to fall as girls flag football races to sanctioned status in North Carolina.

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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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