When the AHSAA announced the addition of girls’ flag football as a sanctioned high school sport starting in the fall of 2021, the initial reaction from most people involved in local athletics was one of surprise. Mainly because there had been almost no rumblings or talk of adding a new sport to the state, and suddenly on April 6, there it was, leaving Athletic Directors, coaches, and athletes wondering what was next.
“We had no idea that the announcement was coming,” Fyffe AD Heath Thrash said. “The first I had heard of it was when we got down to the meeting and saw it on the itinerary, so that was the first any of us had seen or heard of it.”
That sentiment was echoed throughout other athletic departments in the area, who noted that in the past as more sports were added, that you sort of saw it coming or at least heard talk of it beforehand.
“A lot of times like with bowling for instance, or eSports, even with fishing teams, which, that’s not officially an AHSAA sport, you hear about those for a while before it ever comes to fruition,” Albertville’s Tyler Reeves said. “That was something that was not on anybody’s radar as far as that becoming an official sanctioned sport. A good bit of surprise there when that was added, because there was no real lead-up when that was announced.”
The program was added with the help of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, who launched a similar program last year in Georgia, while other states like Florida have offered the sport for a number of years.
The game, according to the AHSAA site, will be 7 on 7, with up to 25 players per team, and played on an 80-yard field. And instead of tackling like traditional football, the girls will be wearing flags around their waste that defenders pull off to record a “tackle” and stop the play.
But will any of the 11 schools in the Sand Mountain area be adding a team? At the moment, it’s likely too early to tell, especially considering the quick turnaround that is required before having to declare their athletic programs for next season.
But area AD’s say there has been preliminary interest, but that ultimately it will come down to if their respective schools have enough interest and players to put a team on the field this fall.
“We’ve had a couple faculty members ask if we’re having a team, and really the only response I have is that there’s no way to know if this is something we’d do or not do,” Reeves added. “With it being offered next season, we’re in mid-April so you don’t have a ton of time to figure out if there is enough interest. And you have to balance what you offer with the programs you already have.”
Guntersville’s Darren James sounded the closest to possibly adding the sport next season, but did not officially announce a team, noting that in the days after the announcement was made, he was stopped at other events like softball games, and asked if the school might be adding the team next season.
“There’s been a lot of questions about it, some interest but a lot of questions,” James said. “At a softball game I was answering a lot of question about it, I Just think a lot of people are surprised, here’s this new sport and what are we going to do with it in Guntersville, but I’m doing my research and printing off rules from places that have already adopted it and get a jump on what we’re looking at for expenses, stipends, equipment, officials, where they’ll play, where they’ll practice, I’ve been trying to get ahead of the game with that, because getting so many questions in a short amount of time I feel like we might have good enough interest to offer the sport next year.”
While bigger schools at the 5A and up level like Guntersville, Boaz, Douglas, and Albertville have larger student populations to draw from for a potential team, they face the same challenge that smaller schools like Fyffe, Geraldine, Asbury and others do: Finding players to join a potential new team while not damaging the school’s primary offering for girls fall sports: Volleyball.
“It’s just something we’ll have to put out and see if there’s enough interest in it to justify us going forward with it.” Thrash added. “But it would kind of be going head to head with volleyball, and our volleyball program is really good, so we don’t want to do anything to hurt an existing program while getting something else started, but if there’s enough interest we’ll just have to put it out there and see if there is enough interest to go forward with it. I don’t know because we’ve never had anything competing against volleyball. We have cross country, but that may be four or five girls as opposed to flag football where you’re looking at 20 to 25 players, and our three volleyball teams, it’s one of those things where we have to look at the numbers and see if it’s feasible to have two teams at the same time.”
In addition to the challenge of finding players while not hurting other teams, adding flag football would add a ton of other logistical hurdles for ADs to figure out, including when and where they’ll practice and play games, having to compete with traditional football, as well as marching bands and other activities that may use the stadium at their schools. As well as trying to find out if any other schools are nearby that they could play against.
Currently, the AHSAA hasn’t announced what night games will be played on, or how many games teams can schedule this season, only that they plan to have the state championship games at the same time and place as the Super Seven each year.
“It has to be a part of the process and puzzle, but at the same time it can’t deter the outcome, that can’t be the sole reason it doesn’t happen,” James said of the logistical hurdles. “Having a natural surface on our field, we don’t necessarily want five events a week on that field, we’re looking at wearing it out quickly. We do have the soccer field above the football field and that field meets the dimensions of that field by the state and would allow us to play games during the week instead of on Saturdays.”
But at the end of the day, the decision ultimately comes down to interest, and trying to do what’s best for the students and the communities at each school.
“With flag football or any new program, every school doesn’t have every sport, the programs that you offer are tailored to your school, community, and situation, so flag football is no different than any other sport that comes across the radar, it really just depends on interest.” Reeves concluded. “If you have that, then you look into how would we implement this, where would they practice, who supervises the program, but it really and truly depends on what the local interest would be for that.“