On Tuesday afternoon, under sunny skies in downtown Charlotte, a group of high school girls ran onto the field at Bank of America Stadium, wearing the same jerseys as their high school football teams. Their smiles and enthusiasm said it all.
They were making history.
This spring, these young women will play in the premier women’s flag football league at Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools.
“I’m thrilled to be a part of this,” said North Mecklenburg senior Breana Fowler, 17, who runs track and plays softball. “This is an incredible opportunity, not just for me but for future girls who are in primary school or have not been to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools system – to be part of a program that can to be a pioneer in empowering girls in the world of football.
There will be 19 CMS teams competing in the club’s sports league with Charlotte Catholic. The Panthers, who made the announcement in time for National Girls and Women in Sports Day on Wednesday, are providing $50,000 to help launch the program along with balls, flags and school resources. The NFL team has also partnered with Nike to help get custom uniforms for the girls.
“I’m really excited,” said 16-year-old junior Ava Humphries of Mallard Creek.
His brother, DJ, is a former Mavericks football star who later played in Florida and was named to the 2022 Pro Bowl as an offensive tackle with the Cardinals this week.
“As a young woman who’s been in sports all my life,” Ava Humphries said, “I’ve always been in the world (football) and I love it, and being able to give to other young girls and women the opportunities I’ve always had is really important to me, and I’m grateful.
Nike and the NFL are taking a big step forward in women’s flag soccer and announced a multi-year, $5 million initiative to grow the sport in American high schools. On Tuesday, Nike said state athletic associations that already have flag football girls will receive a donation of up to $100,000 in merchandise, including uniforms, socks, sports bras and other accessories.
Six states offer women’s flag football as a sanctioned sport at the high school level: Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, and New York.
Florida was the first, starting in the 2002-03 school year, after women’s flag football had been a club sport at several schools for many years. To become a recognized sport, Florida required that at least 48 schools commit to having a season.
In North Carolina, state association commissioner Que Tucker said that for women’s flag football to become a sanctioned sport with a state championship, at least 25% of NCHSAA’s 427 schools would need to offer it. , or at least half of the teams playing in a single classification. There are 106 4A schools, for example.
Tucker said she believed if the Panthers supported flag football in more school districts than they did in Charlotte, it would accelerate the sport.
“I’m always happy when there are more opportunities for students in general, whether male or female,” Tucker said. “I believe in education-based athletics and I believe in the lessons that are taught and the values that are shaped through them. The more we can add, the more our schools can afford to offer education-based sports, I think that’s wonderful.
The Charlotte league grew out of a women’s flag football jamboree hosted by the Panthers in the fall. Team spokesman Riley Fields said the response was overwhelming.
“We knew we had something,” he said.
The team contacted CMS and this new sport was born.
And when CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston found out what was going on, he was thrilled.
“It’s a huge deal,” he said. “I am the father of two young girls at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, and we have to be intentional in creating opportunities for our young women because we have known for so long that these opportunities did not exist. We know what these opportunities can lead to. It really goes beyond (sport). They learn lifelong skills, such as teamwork, perseverance, leadership – these are all qualities these young women need to succeed in life.
This story was originally published February 1, 2022 11:45 a.m.