Everything you need to know about CIF adding girls’ flag football as official sport
The revolution is coming.
The front lines started forming with coaches like Corey Thedford, who signed on to coach Hawthorne High‘s girls’ flag football team in the Rams- and Chargers-sponsored League of Champions. It started with a first game that Thedford called a “train wreck.” Girls just came out to have fun.
Months later, Thedford had taught a run-pass option offense to girls who’d never played football. Lightbulbs flickered on, and the novelty of a thrilling outdoor sport sparked camaraderie. These were athletes thinking of switching their primary sport of basketball or volleyball or soccer to one they’d played for all of a few months.
Hawthorne is fully invested in girls’ flag football. So is Gardena Serra, which won the League of Champions title Sunday. So is Long Beach Poly, and a wide majority of Orange County and Corona-area schools, interest multiplying through the heart of Los Angeles.
“I don’t really think everybody understands how big this thing is going to be,” Thedford said. “I’m going to kind of compare this to the U.S. women’s soccer [surge] years ago. … I think it’s going to be something like that. I think it’s going to be wildfire.”
After years of discussion and proposal, the final spark was set off Friday afternoon when the CIF Federated Council voted to add girls’ flag football as a sanctioned sport. A vast field of unanswered questions stand: budgetary concerns, scheduling, coaching and more.
The state will draw up specific bylaws for girls’ flag football before a final council meeting in late April. Until then, here’s a guide to what you need to know about girls’ flag football in the Southland.
Until the National Federation of State High School Assns. (NFHS) creates a guide, the CIF will use rules for girls’ flag football provided by the National Intramural and Recreational Sports Assn. (NIRSA). There’s plenty of fun variations from tackle football rules:
—Games are played seven on seven, according to Paula Hart Rodas, president-elect of the CIF Southern Section council. The CIF might propose a roster of 15 per team, enough for separate offensive and defensive units, plus a substitute.
—Games consist of four 12-minute quarters, with the clock running continuously for the first 22 minutes of each half before specific clock stoppers (incomplete passes, new series, etc.) go into effect during the final two minutes.
—Touchdowns are still worth six points, but teams can try for extra points that are worth more at extended distances. A successful conversion from the three-yard line is worth one point, from the 10-yard line worth two, and 20-yard line worth three.
—Field dimensions are more complicated, and subject to discussion. The standard length is 80 yards long by 40 yards wide, but City Section sports information director Dick Dornan said it’s possible the City goes 70-by-30 yards. Games at the League of Champions tournament on Sunday were played within a 53-by-25-yard formation to conserve field space.
The total startup cost for a program to field a girls’ flag team, Rodas estimated, is between $2,000 and $2,500 for balls, flags, cones and uniforms. The Chargers and Rams, along with Nike and NFL Play, will likely help with donations and stipends for programs that need help.
Coaching stipends get more tricky, particularly with public schools whose budgets are controlled by districts.
“They’re going to have to find the money … what you have for the boys, you must have for the girls,” Compton Centennial athletic director Mike Stephens said. “And it’s cheaper too.”
Rodas said that the entirety of the Corona-Norco district committed to fielding a team. Buzz in Orange County is also building, particularly in Anaheim Unified. And Compton Unified, Rodas said, is treating flag football like it’s the next big thing for girls.
In the City Section, Dornan said 35 schools had shown interest based on a fall survey. A concern, however, is the tentative plan to schedule girls’ flag football as a fall sport.
Welcome to the most contentious, and ambiguous, area of introducing the sport. The first issue is the matter of whether girls’ flag will be played in the fall or spring, which ignited debate during a fall Southern Section council meeting.
“I hope it would be in the spring,” Stephens said, “but they’re going to put it with football season.”
One of the main concerns to a fall season is a lack of available officials. The Southern Section, Rodas said, will explore recruiting new officials from youth flag leagues.
Based on conversations with coaches and administrators, there’s three schools of thought as to when games could be played in the fall:
Monday: Hosting round-robin, tournament-style games that can fit multiple games at once onto the same field Monday afternoons and nights, thereby conserving field space.
Thursday: Thedford brought up an interesting suggestion to have the girls play the exact opposite of the boys’ JV tackle team‘s schedule.
Friday: Play a doubleheader with the boys’ tackle team.
Those day-of-the-week scheduling decisions will be up to individual leagues after the state settles on the overall number of games to be played.
Thedford and Lake Balboa Birmingham’s Jim Rose want to coach tackle and girls’ flag at the same time. Overall, though, the Southern Section will be pushing for more female representation in head-coaching roles under Title IX, Rodas said.
“Some of the folks are ... struggling with it being a fall sport, because our football coaches want to coach it,” Rodas said. “But that’s kind of not the point. It’s a women’s sport that will be coached by women.”
The idea, Rodas said, is to not exclude men interested from coaching but to provide more leadership opportunities for women and to give girls a female role model.
There’s a quicker path to a playoff bracket in the City Section than in the Southern Section.
Just six schools in the City, according to Dornan, need to field teams in order to hold a girls’ flag football playoff bracket. But in the Southern Section, 20% of all schools in the section have to have a team, and an initial season is needed to determine how to sort teams into divisions.
A realistic timeline: the City Section holds girls’ flag football playoffs this coming fall in its inaugural year — temporarily scheduled for November, Dornan said — and the Southern Section has its first playoffs in the 2024-25 school year.
A state bracket, meanwhile, won’t be developed until there are “viable section champions first,” according to CIF associate executive director Brian Seymour.
The CIF’s decision comes in the midst of a perfect storm.
Interest in women’s sports has grown steadily across the country. Endorsement opportunities for high school athletes are endless thanks to name, image and likeness laws. And according to the Associated Press, the NFL is making a push for flag football to be added to the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.
Thedford’s been recruiting across Hawthorne’s campus, trying to reach girls who haven’t found their niche in sports. Selling them on a dream. On doing something they never thought possible.
Life-changing opportunities are already unfolding. Gardena Serra is partnering with the Chargers to host a showcase for programs across Southern California on Feb. 18, playing in front of scouts from a handful of Midwest universities that play flag football. Thedford said they’ll be giving out scholarships on the spot.
“It’s your time in history to do it,” Thedford said. “The door is there, and all you have to do is take the opportunity.”
Watch L.A. Times Today at 7 p.m. on Spectrum News 1 on Channel 1 or live stream on the Spectrum News App. Palos Verdes Peninsula and Orange County viewers can watch on Cox Systems on channel 99.
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