The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT)

Time for CIAC to add flag football

- Jeff Jacobs

The California Interschol­astic Federation approved a plan on Feb. 3 to make flag football an official sport for high school girls in 2023-24.

A couple of days earlier, the New York State Public High School Athletic Associatio­n announced it will recognize high school girls flag football as a state championsh­ip sport for the spring of 2024. Raise the flag. It is time for the CIAC to join California and New York and add girls flag football as a varsity high school sport.

There is a rising tide of popularity. The sport already is being played in boys and girls leagues at the youth level across the country. A growing number of states are bringing it to the high schools.

In fact, Brandon Jubrey, president of the Connecticu­t Flag Football League, said the goal is for the CIAC to adopt such a move for the 2024-2025 school year.

“I think it would be awesome,” said Northwest United's Jennifer Garzone, the first female tackle football coach in Connecticu­t high school history as well as the first to take a team to the state playoffs. “Absolutely, think it's a great idea.”

The CIAC has a multi-level procedure for approval. An email was sent to CIAC director of media John Holt asking if anything formally has been brought to the organizati­on and if it is currently under considerat­ion.

Holt answered that he has decided to no longer respond to any of my questions. CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini and associate executive director Gregg Simon have not answered my questions for months.

Jubrey hasn't been in contact with the CIAC, but he said Windsor athletic director Chris Fulton has been in conversati­ons.

“We’re actually working on it right now,” Jubrey said. “I started CT Flag in 2018, been running it since. I have a daughter who’s a freshman at Northwest Catholic who loves flag football.

“Over the last year or so, I’ve been looking to make some headway. I was put in touch with someone at the New York Giants, involved in bringing it to New York. I’m working currently with Chris Fulton, who is a friend of mine.”

An all-girls high school flag football jamboree has been scheduled for April 29 at Windsor. As of last week, 11 schools were registered. The Giants, Dick’s Sporting Goods, USA Football are helping sponsor it.

“The event is meant to be the jump-off to hopefully bring high school to Connecticu­t in 2024,” Jubrey said.

The league’s 12-U Lady Matrix team recently competed at the Pro Bowl. Syniah Harding from Windsor and Hailey Morgan from Vernon were selected to try out for the junior national team.

“Everybody can participat­e in flag football,” Jubrey said. “It’s non-contact. We have travel teams, boys and girls. We have five girls teams, 8-U, 10-U, 12-U, 14-U and 17-U.”

“It provides another opportunit­y for the game,” Garzone said. “It’s not an expensive sport. You need very little equipment. The pushback I would see coming: What season is it running in? Obviously, it’s not running in winter up here, but whether you have spring or fall you’re going to have the competitio­n from other sports. It would affect mostly smaller schools.

“If they do it in the fall, I see the conflict of field availabili­ty. Some schools have varsity, junior varsity, freshmen on the field. That would be only real drawback from an administra­tive standpoint, but other than that why wouldn’t you do it? I know the NFL has been pushing it for awhile, kids playing flag at a young age and play tackle as they get to the middle school.”

Windsor, Glastonbur­y, Maloney, Bloomfield, Northwest Catholic, Hartford Public, Enfield, East Hartford, New Britain, Bristol Eastern and Rockville (a Pequot team) registered for the April 29 event.

“Instead of opening up the event to the entire state, we decided to start off with invitation­s to CCC,” Jubrey said. “We expect to expand on it once people start catching wind of this.

“The New York Giants have donated $10,000 to provide the girls with uniforms. Every school is going to get up to 20 Nike jerseys for their school to use this year and beyond. I would take more teams. I don’t know if I can promise uniforms to more teams. If we can get more sponsors, absolutely.”

Jason Pinnock, from Windsor High and now with the New York Giants, will be at the April 29 event. Desiree Abrams, an NFL replay official, will be the head official. She also will address the girls.

“I think the opportunit­y for the girls is limitless,” Jubrey said. “We have girls who want profession­s in sports. Why not flag football? Playing, coaching, especially now with the NFL investing a lot of money into the growth.”

According to the National Federation of State High School Associatio­ns, the number of girls playing flag football in high school in the decade leading up to 2018-2019 doubled to 11,000. It rose 40 percent to 15,716 in 2022. According to a San Francisco Chronicle article, girls playing on boys tackle football teams increased 39 percent to 3,633 during that time.

Schools have had “powder puff ” games for years. In Connecticu­t, they are often played before Thanksgivi­ng football games. Sheehan and Lyman Hall played the 51st Samaha Bowl last season, an annual tradition between senior girls that averages 3,000 spectators. It’s 2023, we will refrain from using the term “powder puff.”

Flag football will suffice.

Troy Vincent, NFL executive vice president of football operations, has pushed to get flag football added to 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. The movement, as evidenced by a Super Bowl commercial, is a cause celebre with the NFL. It’s also sort of two-pronged. Keeping kids in flag football until higher grades for tackle football can pique their interest while helping prevent injuries until they’re older. And if boys or girls want to continue playing flag football into adulthood, the sport is expanding. The NFL has partnered with the NAIA in developing women’s teams in colleges. There are adult and profession­al leagues. Individual NFL teams supported the state moves to varsity high school flag football.

All of it means more interest in the sport.

“I’m back playing in a women’s tackle league, playing girls nearly half my age,” said Garzone, who played a couple of years of flag football in Waterbury. “If you want to play high school, you’re playing with the guys. More kids playing flag football would increase interest overall, particular­ly in adult leagues flag and tackle.”

Injuries? Garzone, a multiple-sport athlete, has had ACL injuries in both knees over the years.

“I also never had weight training growing up,” she said. “I went to Sacred Heart. There was no weightroom. There was a chapel. There wasn’t a fitness center. I learned about weightlift­ing in college.”

Studies have shown girls prosper in team sports. Football, as a spectator sport, remains the national pastime is huge. It is a part of the lifestyle of hundreds of thousands of families.

From shorter fields to fewer players to no helmets, there is a number of different rules. Yes, there would be some complaints from soccer teams in the fall and outdoor track teams in the spring, but here’s one bet that flag football would be extremely popular in Connecticu­t — especially with city schools.

And that’s a vital area screaming for improvemen­t.

Raise the flag.

 ?? Ashley Landis/Associated Press ?? Aly Young, 17, left, and Shale Harris, 15, reach to catch a pass as they try out for the Redondo Union High School girls flag football team in Redondo Beach, Calif.
Ashley Landis/Associated Press Aly Young, 17, left, and Shale Harris, 15, reach to catch a pass as they try out for the Redondo Union High School girls flag football team in Redondo Beach, Calif.
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