TAMPA — Innovation, diversity, inclusion. Whatever you want to call it, the Bucs are doing it, particularly when it comes to promoting the role of women in the game of football.
“Coach (Bruce) Arians is always looking to push forward. He’s been progressive. He wants to do what’s right, and that’s what he believes in,” said assistant strength and conditioning coach Maral Javadifar.
As part of the organization’s goal to continue giving exposure to girls and women in football, the team kicked off the girls high school flag football season Thursday night with the third annual preseason classic. It’s the largest girls flag football tournament in the country, featuring nearly 50 teams that represent 13 counties.
“To see them just showcase themselves as the athletes they are is unbelievable,” said Bucs co-owner Darcie Glazer Kassewitz. “My daughter plays flag, too, so for me, this means something personally. And they’re unbelievable athletes, and it’s a real sport, so it’s important that we shine a light on them in that way.”
Being involved in a tournament run by the reigning Super Bowl champions is an exciting opportunity in itself for the student-athletes. But seeing role models like Javadifar and Bucs assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust and learning about the expanding opportunities for women in football gives these high school girls the belief that they can have futures in the game, too.
“I remember in middle school, my school didn’t have a flag football team, and all the girls were trying to get that to happen,” said Brooks DeBartolo senior Brooke Maggio. “Seeing it come this far where now in college you can have these scholarship opportunities, I think it’s really amazing.”
As both female Bucs coaches know all too well, these doors that are beginning to open up haven’t always been there.
“We wished we would’ve had this when we were younger,” said Locust. “I played backyard football. There’s not a lot of glory in that, but just the ability for these girls to have an option in this sport, and even if they don’t take it any further, just that they get to learn the game of football.”
The Bucs have been at the forefront of trying to show young girls that there is a path for them in football. One way they’re doing that is through the Buccaneers Girls In Football Scholarship. The organization is the first in the NFL to offer an academic scholarship to girls who play organized football and want to pursue a career in sports.
The team has also established the Junior Bucs Flag Football Program, which grows the game of football in more than 90 Tampa area middle schools.