Women fueling flag football’s surging acceptance: ‘It’s available and inclusive’

At a sinewy 5-foot-3, Andrea Castillo looks like a soccer player — some thing she as soon as was rising up in Panama.

But it did not take extended to comprehend that “the attractive game” wasn’t for her.

She was 12, just coming into secondary college, when she gave up fútbol for the fledging sport of flag football. It proved to be a great move for the now 18-year-previous, who this summer quarterbacked Panama to a bronze medal in the Planet Game titles in Birmingham, Ala.

“I imagine a whole lot about that,” she mentioned of the determination to stop 1 of her country’s most popular athletics for a single that experienced tiny much more than a cult adhering to. “I’ve been developing with flag football. … I have experienced the chance to be in all these gatherings and have all these achievements at a youthful age.”

The sport has blossomed pretty much as swiftly as Castillo’s career. And although the world-wide attractiveness of the Nationwide Soccer League has helped fuel flag football’s increase in Panama and in other places, about the only matter the two sports activities share is the condition of the ball.

Flag football is ordinarily played with 5 folks on a facet on a industry about two-thirds the size of an NFL gridiron, which will make for a vast-open game performed at a breakneck pace. That also can make velocity, agility and creativeness more significant than measurement or brute power, a cause girls and girls are flocking to the recreation in massive figures.

The California Interscholastic Federation, which governs substantial faculty athletics in the state, is taking into consideration a proposal to certify flag football as a varsity sport. 6 states have taken that move by now, and at the very least 20 other people are exploring it.

The NFL is also on board.

The Rams and Chargers are sponsoring a league that includes 16 girls’ flag soccer teams in Southern California, and more than 10,000 women are enjoying in NFL-sponsored leagues all over the country. At the college or university degree, 18 National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics educational facilities in 10 states are participating in women’s flag football this period, as are a handful of colleges at the National Junior College or university Athletic Assn. degree.

With extra than fifty percent a million individuals and 1,640 lively leagues, according to the NFL, flag soccer is among the quickest-growing sports in the U.S.

Andrea Castillo celebrates just after helping Panama acquire a bronze medal in flag soccer at the Environment Games 2022 in Birmingham, Ala., in July.

(Dustin Massey / Entire world Online games 2022)

“That’s the magnificence of flag soccer. Everybody can perform. It’s accessible and inclusive.”

— Andrea Castillo, Panama quarterback

“You can see the chance, and now to introduce the sport to superior faculty ladies, this is a generational effect that we’re having,” claimed Jonathan Franklin, director of social justice and soccer development for the Rams.

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Franklin explained the NFL has emphasized girls’ flag soccer simply because practically just about every superior school in the country has a tackle-soccer software for boys.

“As we seem at inclusion and chance, there has not been access necessarily for girls to perform in a risk-free way,” he claimed. “So by way of this pilot software, we wished to make absolutely sure that we give ladies an option to have possession of their possess activity, to develop their activity, to produce that enthusiasm, that need.

“There are boys-only athletics, right? Now let us make possibilities for women.”

The sport also has a substantial adhering to in Latin The united states, many thanks in component to the simplicity of the activity. Like soccer, all it involves is a compact open up house, a ball and a handful of friends.

And gender doesn’t matter, Castillo claimed.

“That’s the natural beauty of flag soccer. Everybody can play. It’s available and inclusive,” she mentioned. “We never have any trouble with the gender matter in Panama with flag football. Women of all ages have been represented a ton and play football and we have performed a excellent task.”

“It empowers ladies. It provides equal illustration on the subject. So there is no restrictions.”

— Diana Flores, flag football quarterback

Diana Flores of Mexico Town was drawn to the activity when she was 8. Her father — who performed quarterback for Monterrey Tech, Mexico’s major faculty method — took her to a apply and she was hooked, quitting piano and dance lessons to perform flag soccer instead.

Mainly because there ended up no groups at the time for women her age, she had to compete in opposition to gamers two times as outdated, a handicap she turned into an gain.

“I was playing with ladies that have been taller than me, of class quicker than me,” she said. “But I realized to concentration on my qualities, on the matters that built me superior, and to do the job on them. … It gave me the chance to grow as an athlete and as a individual.”

8 several years afterwards, she manufactured Mexico’s countrywide group, playing in the first of four Flag Soccer Earth Championships in which she has appeared so significantly. This yr, as Mexico’s starting off quarterback at age 24, she conquer the U.S. 2 times — the 2nd earn coming in the World Games closing, the place she completed 20 of 28 passes for 210 yards and four touchdowns in a 39-6 romp.

Mexico’s women’s team is the most thriving in the background of the sport, successful 3 gold medals, a silver and a bronze in the Intercontinental Federation of American Football Earth Championships, a levels of competition that is held every single two several years.

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“It empowers women of all ages,” Flores stated of flag soccer, which in Mexico difficulties not only sporting stereotypes but gender kinds as effectively. “It provides equivalent illustration on the subject. So there’s no limitations.”

According to Flores, an approximated 3 million people today play flag soccer in Mexico, the place schools are starting to award scholarships for females to participate in.

“This is just a to start with stage for opening new paths and new prospects. Not only Mexico, but around the globe,” she reported. “That’s why I’m joyful to be an ambassador and get started opening all those doorways.”

A single doorway she hopes will open quickly is the just one leading to the Olympics. Flag soccer is a person of nine sporting activities that final thirty day period petitioned for inclusion in the 2028 Los Angeles Online games, alongside motorsports, cricket, karate, baseball/softball, lacrosse, kickboxing, breaking and squash.

The sport would appear to have crucial elements that the Worldwide Olympic Committee looks for: It’s quick, has a manageable amount of players and a strict time restrict — with halves long lasting amongst 15 and 25 minutes, dependent on the competitors.

Rosters are 15 players deep and get in touch with is not authorized, which signifies no tackling, diving, blocking or screening. Rather, gamers dress in flags that cling together their sides on a belt to “tackle” the ballcarrier, an opponent ought to pull off one particular of the two flags.

There are no punts or kickoffs. Move rushers should commence 7 yards off the line of scrimmage, and quarterbacks have just 7 seconds to get rid of the ball they can’t run with it unless they hand it off to a teammate 1st.

Flag football’s inclusion in the Entire world Online games, which were very first held in 1981 to highlight events competing for a spot on the Olympic calendar, was an vital action in getting global recognition. (This summer’s level of competition showcased 3,600 athletes from 110 countries competing in 30 occasions, which includes wheelchair rugby and tug of war.)

The IOC is expected to announce its determination pertaining to added athletics for the Los Angeles Online games at its general meeting up coming spring in Mumbai.

Flores isn’t keeping her breath.

But then, she explained, she doesn’t need an Olympic medal to validate her job. Flag football has taken her to competitions in Italy, Denmark, Israel, the U.S. and Central America. What she needs to do is give back to the recreation by aiding it grow.

“I’m here and I’m just one of the best in the environment, you know? So to be equipped to show to all the little women that they are ready to do that, I feel that is what we’re undertaking,” she claimed. “We’re inspiring ladies and younger little ones to dream large. And to see that it is feasible for their desires to arrive legitimate. It is attainable to do every thing they want.”

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