Tampa high schools dominate girls flag football in Florida.
In 2017, Plant High School took home the Class 2A state championship, and Alonso High School claimed the 2A title in 2018. Robinson High won the Class A state championship in 2017 and 2018, marking their third consecutive state title and fourth in the past five years.
Most of the athletes that graduate from these successful programs enter with little to no prior experience before reaching the high-school level.
That's where the NFL and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have stepped in. The Bucs are launching the Buccaneers Junior Bucs Girls Flag Football League this spring, and to advance the league's official launch, hosted over 200 girls Oct. 13 in a ''Grrridiron Girls Clinic,'' led by Jen Welter, the NFL's first female coach.
"I know that what this (the Bucs Girls Flag Football League) does. It creates opportunities where the girls coming up have been playing, they've been playing and developing the skills and setting the standard," Welter said. "That gives opportunity to you girls playing at a younger age and increases (the high schools') chances of dominance; there will be a larger talent pool of athletes to choose from. It won't be like you get to high school and you're starting now."
Welter spent the day running around and teaching routes, flag pulling techniques and various other essential flag football skills and aspects of the game. Players from the Tampa Bay Inferno, Tampa's women's tackle football team, also coached the girls throughout the day.
The Grrridiron Girls Clinic is an existing program led by Welter, but its integration with the Bucs' additional girls flag football initiatives allows it to have a lasting impact on young girls.
Partnering with the City of Tampa Parks and Recreation Department, the Bucs will equip 24 local recreational centers with brand new flag football equipment and both the players and coaches will receive expert instruction and training. The first even Jr. Bucs Flag Football League will start in March of next year, with the recreational centers playing one another.
"Flag football is one of the fastest growing sports in Florida, so it is so important for us to get these girls out here earlier and get them interested, involved and really level the playing field so they can do great things in high school," said Darcie Glazer Kassewitz, Buccaneers' co-owner and president of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation and the Glazer Family Foundation.
The Florida High School Athletic Association officially declared flag football a sanctioned sport and last spring, the Hillsborough County Public Schools athletic program added girls middle school flag football to the list of sports offered.
Now, girls flag football is growing at a fast pace in Tampa for all ages, which will help the high school teams continue to grow.
"The Bucs promoting flag football especially at the middle school level can only improve the product at the high school level," said Robinson High School four-time state champion head coach Joshua Saunders. "More importantly, creating the love for the sport among girls at that age will benefit programs across the area because the girls will already be coming in with a passion for the game."
Throughout Saturday's event, girls ran around laughing and learning the basics of flag football, several times yelling, "I love this game," and, When does the league start?" Youth involvement in girls flag football is helping to change the role of women in football, which will be beneficial on the high school level.
"The future of football is female," Welter said. "It looks really good out here today."
Macy McClintock is an award-winning high school journalist and a quarterback on the Robinson High girls flag football team. Contact McClintock at firstname.lastname@example.org.