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Girls flag football takes the field at area high schools

 September 5, 2023 at 5:08 PM PDT

S1: Welcome back to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman. Football season is back. The college football season is in full swing and the NFL kicks off the start of a new season on Thursday. But a new version of the sport is also taking the field at high schools across the region. Girls Flag Football. The California Interscholastic Federation , which governs high school athletics , added the sport earlier this year. And now 44 high schools across the San Diego region have girls flag football teams playing this season. Here to tell us more about the sport is sportswriter John Murphy , who covers high school athletics for the San Diego Union Tribune. John , welcome to Midday.

S2: Thank you.

S1: So earlier this year in the run up to girls flag football becoming a high school sport here in California , You wrote that there was a lot of interest in the sport , but that , quote , no one knows what to expect.

S2: There was interest probably Joe Hines , the commissioner , told me originally there were between 70 and 80 teams that showed interest and that has pared down. It was originally 44 , and now Chula Vista Learning Center has jumped in. So it's 45. So we added added a school , but he is not at all discouraged by that. He thinks it's a good number. The desert desert schools are full in just about everybody in the desert is in the south. Bay is is completely in the city , is in North County is really slow to to join in in. But they're kind of taking a wait and see. And I think they will they will jump in next year and that will that will pump the numbers , numbers way up. So far , participation has been good. Scores have been very respectable. Very few , you know , few blowout. There haven't been any 55. Nothing kind of scores ? No , no real mismatches. So I think everybody is very happy with the with the first couple of weeks here. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. I mean , it all sounds exciting.

S2: And so once this you know , once the state level , the state said , you know , hey , this is going to happen , the ten sections in state , please do everything you can to get this launched. And Joe Haynes , Todd Katz and Ron Marquez are are very proactive at our CIF office. And and , you know , they got it rolling.

S1: And so when people think about high school football , they probably think of traditional tackle football. 11 players on the field , Hellman's shoulder pads.

S2: Yeah. And it's kind of it's interesting that , you know , everybody said , well , this is going to be a completely inexpensive sport. There's not going to be any , you know , any cost to it. Well , that's not true. At most of the schools I've talked to in the athletic directors , it's not terribly expensive. It's about $5,000. You know , you can't ask the girls to go out there in a T-shirt , you know , with a with a marks a lot number on it. You're going to have to give these girls and they have the same kind of respect that you give , you know , soccer , volleyball. So there's a cost involved in jerseys. There's there's a cost involved in the flags. There are certain breakaway flags and footballs. It's a different football. It's a it's a smaller football. You know , and officials , they're using three officials at $63 a game. I believe so. So you're going to have a couple of hundred dollars in officials every game. So there was a you know , a bit of a a little bit of a sticker shock with the $5,000 , no helmets. It is pretty much non-contact. You know , there are there are rules in place , you know , no bump and run. If if , you know , people are familiar with that from the NFL , you know , you can't tackle a girl to get her flags punting and sacking the quarterback , that kind of thing. You can't it has to be flagged so that you know , safety in mind. And these rules may modify as we go along through the years. But right now it's kind of safety first to see where we are.

S1: And and also there's there's seven players on each side. Right ? That's that's another one of the things that differ from tackle football , correct ? Correct.

S2: Yeah. And if any has ever played like intramural football in high school or college , you know , boys or girls , you know , seven players , seven player flag is kind of the standard for intramural football. And that that's kind of the model they're using. They're using the seven man flag at the youth level. And hopefully now as we build , the girls will have their own , you know , youth leagues and they will the teaching of the game won't be so much so much of a factor in high school. They will have known the game a little bit and they're short games. They're two 20 minute running halves. So games are over in less than an hour. So it's quick and , you know , it's kind of nonstop action. It's up to the referees. If there's an incomplete pass , you know , get the ball spotted and get , you know , get it in play because the clock is running.

S1: And you recently profiled one local schools flag football team , Our Lady of Peace , an all girls school in normal Heights. Tell us about that team and how their experience has been so far.

S2: Well , it kind of interesting. I mean , I thought that was an interesting angle in that here we have football , you know , basically 99% boys. And now the all girls school is going to jump in. So our Lady of Peace is is is playing. They you know , they have some , you know , some some hurdles because they don't have any place to practice on their campus is very tight. Uh , so there's there's no place to practice on campus. There's no place to play their games. They they're driving about 20 miles east to Reese Parish , uh , to , to practice. So , you know , so there's some hurdles there , but , but they're off the ground and running. And I also found it interesting that some of the schools that don't play high school football , Canyon Crest and San Angelo Academy , the the girls were totally in. And so non-football playing schools , you know , all girls and San Angelo Academy and Canyon Crest that , you know co-ed campuses but don't play boys football are playing girls flag football.

S1: Mm And so you know obviously there are challenges to getting flag football programs up and running. Originally , 75 schools were interested in fielding a team , but that number has dropped to 45 teams in the region for this reason.

S2: You know , they they wanted to play. They've they've seen their brothers boyfriends or , you know , are just classmates play football. And they were very enthusiastic. But the biggest thing is two things feel space and coaches. It was very hard to get coaches. Schools hadn't budgeted for coaching stipends. The biggest drawback now is field space because in the fall you have obviously football and you have field hockey and and now you had flag football to that. And you know , most schools only have one field , one football field. Most of the teams that have schools that have field hockey , you know , have have a work in agreement with between the field hockey team and the football team. They you know , the field hockey team gets it one night a week for their games and and just 1 or 2 days to get on the field and the and the and the football team will work around it they'll go they'll practice earlier later to let you know to share the field with the girls. Now you add a third component in there for the field and scheduling , it's a little bit tougher. Scheduling has been has been the the one major thing.

S1: And hopefully they can get those issues resolved to be more inclusive of this new sport. San Diego Unified School District also has flag football as a middle school sport , something that you say may give these schools an advantage as they develop players. But San Diego Unified also added a few other girls sports this year , including stunt cheering and beach volleyball. Are you noticing the number of girls playing sports increasing in the area as a result of these new sports offerings ? Yes.

S2: Yes. And I and I think part of that is is very , you know , pro athlete and and and , you know , boys and girls , they want they you know , they want everyone have an opportunity whether it's a boys or girls to you know to have an opportunity to play and that and that's why , you know , two years ago when they finally launched beach volleyball , our section is very proactive. They're giving those girls an opportunity to , you know , to to compete. And and and that has turned into a huge college scholarship sport. Field hockey. We're we're the , you know , probably the preeminent section in the state that that plays field hockey And and the girls are reaping the benefits of college scholarships. Their uh , girls flag football , uh , is going to be at some point a college sport. It it's creeping along. It may it may take another five years before it becomes totally integrated. But and that's kind of a carrot out there for for , you know , whether it's a boy or a girl , you know , you can play for us , play , you know , play well enough. You might earn a scholarship. But. Yes. And the state has the state sent out participation numbers recently and girls sports are are up and and that's that's very encouraging. Yeah.

S1: Yeah.

S2: And just looking at the results. You know , like I said , the desert has jumped in. A lot of the desert schools have played five and six games already where , you know , some of the schools here in San Diego are still waiting , you know , to play a game. And and and and the coaches were given the option of , you know , you you know , you tell us when you're ready to start. Uh , you know there was an August 5th start date , but , you know , the CIF didn't want to didn't want to force any schools into playing before they were ready. They didn't want anybody to get hurt or , you know , or a total mismatch before they were ready to play. And then kids get discouraged and quit. So , you know , it's a little bit like it's a little bit of a test run this year , uh , you know , to see how things go. But so far , like I said , very , you know , very smooth so far. Uh , you know , no forfeits , uh , you know , scores , you know , respectable , 35 points seems to be , you know , like the at the high end , a lot of shutouts on on defense , but , uh. Lower scoring games than than I thought. Because , uh , when you look at eight man football , uh , if you can get to the corner in eight man football and you have a back with speed , he's , you know , it's a touchdown and and scores will get up into the 60s and 70s but it's not the same with the girls here. The scores have been you know in the in the in the to 25 range.

S3: Um for.

S1: The for the women's teams. Concerns have been raised that the girls flag football could take away from other sports such as lacrosse or field hockey.

S2: Uh , I think , you know , lacrosse is is a spring sport , so I. I don't think it will affect , you know , lacrosse at all. At least immediately. It may. It may down the road. Field hockey is the one , the one sport where where everybody , administrators and CIF officials were were very concerned about. Well , you know , you know , if you've seen a field hockey match , it's kind of a hard sport to follow. But , you know , once once you see it on turf , they used to play , you know , all the all the fields in the county were grass. And it really wasn't a very , very good game to watch. But now that it's on turf and the skill level , if you watch , uh , Canyon Hills or Scripps Ranch play field hockey , you would , you know , you would be very impressed at the skill level of those girls. Uh , and that's what the CIF doesn't want to take away from they , they don't want to take away from field hockey. But I think we're probably a year or two away from , from seeing how that , that impacts field hockey. Yeah.

S1: Yeah.

S2: You know , uh , Bonita Vista has gotten off to a really nice start , you know , in Grossmont , which is the only school in the Grossmont district to , to , to play. And , and Grossmont opened their season with with a pair of shutouts and and they they play three games this week and it's interesting that at Grossmont High there's a father son coaching combination that Anthony Lawrence who was a star player at Grossmont High as the is the boys football coach and his father is the girl's flag football coach. So that that's kind of an interesting dynamic out it out of Grossmont. Uh Vincent Memorial out in the desert has gotten off to a really nice start. Uh , Point Loma is is two and zero and and they , they play a couple of games this week so you know , some of the teams nobody has been embarrassed early. Uh , but some of the teams you can tell are , are a little bit ahead of the others.

S1: As flag football continues to grow , there is a push for flag football to become an Olympic sport for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

S2: You know , I , I think 2028 might be a little early. You know , it's five years away , but , uh , I , you know , and I can understand , you know , Los Angeles would want to would want to get involved in a boy. The 84 Olympics were a tremendous success in Los Angeles. And , you know , but I don't I think in my mind , you know , 2028 is is a little bit early. Uh , the sport would really have to zoom forward. But I think I think we'll know more after this season. Do we take a baby step next year or to take a giant step forward if we take a baby , Step 2028 is probably far away. If we take a giant step , then then maybe it's a little more realistic.

S1: I've been speaking with John McAfee , sportswriter with the San Diego Union Tribune. John , thanks for joining us today.

S2: Good , Jay , Thank you very much.

S1: Coming up , we'll introduce you to one of the new girls flag football teams playing this season.

S4: It was really surprising to hear that they were going to have a team , but really exciting at the same time. So I just decided that I would want to try out.

S1: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. The girls varsity flag football team at Imperial High is one of the new teams taking the field this season. Two members are joining us , Hannah Johnson , who's a junior. She is also receiver and safety on the team. Also Gizelle Carrillo , a sophomore who plays quarterback and defensive back on the field , along with Victor Cruz , Imperial High School's girls flag football coach. And welcome to you all. Hello.

S5: Hello.

S4: It's nice to be here. Hi.

S6: Hi. Thank you for having us.

S7: Yeah , thank you for having us.

S1: Take Coach Cruz , I'll start with you.

S7: This is my second season , but it's a full first. Only one year doing this , my second season because we did a like a spring ball season last spring school semester. And but I've been involved in coaching wise that this is my fifth year I've been coaching with the boys for five years and now that they've brought girls football , I've jumped on this now.

S1: All right , Hannah , you are a junior at Imperial High.

S6: It was very random. I actually was asked like they were mentioning girls flag football and I've always been interested since my brothers. I grew up watching my brothers play football my whole childhood and I just thought I would give it a try. I mean , I've only played softball , so I thought this was just something new for me.

S1: All right. Giselle , you are the quarterback , which has been called the hardest position in sports.

S4: So he's taught me all I've known and I would always just go out and pass the ball and run routes. And it was it was really surprising to hear that they were going to have a team , but really exciting at the same time. So I just decided that I would want to try out for QB since my since my dad would be teaching me everything I know. Yeah.

S1: Yeah.

S6: I mean , I'm a softball player. We are , like , the least physical with each other , but I think flag football is , like , my limit.

S4: Yeah , same here. I don't really care for sports that have contact. I think flag is also something that is far enough for me. Okay.

S1: Okay.



S6: I mean , I do well , from my brother to watching my brother's games and being a big football fan , there's not really nobody I really look up to , but I think more it's my brothers. I grew up watching them play so much , and I just this was a way I could connect with them in another way. Other than softball. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. Hey , Coach , in addition to coaching this new flag football team , you also are a coach on the boys tackle football team , as you mentioned earlier.

S7: You know , the boys , it's a real physical game. You know , you got to be aggressive. You got to kind of be , you know , not afraid to put your hands on someone. But the girls , it's more of like a a schematics game. It's about speed , getting people in space , hitting the person with the right ball. So it's , you know , I guess boys would be more , you know , brute force got to coach up But girls that's using technique using speeds stuff to that nature so it's a little different.

S1: Yeah slightly different game altogether too. Yeah , yeah. Hannah As of the time of this interview , Imperial has played three games this season. Tell us about how the season is going so far.

S6: I think the is going wonderful. We did have a rough start , which it's understandable. It was first game , we'd never had a scrimmage and honestly , since that first game we've all come together. Our chemistry on the team is amazing and at practice we're just learning. We're just becoming better as a team every practice and we have so much more to accomplish from here.


S4: And to be able to say that we're the first CIF seven on seven girls flag football team.



S4: For the teams in the Valley , but Vinson Memorial in Calexico , they are better teams due to the fact that they have Mexicali players with them , travel teams. So they are more experienced and they have better , they have better skills and they're faster.


S7: And I think it's more catch up. And you know , these girls like the two players out here , it's new to them , too. They haven't played football their whole lives. So those girls have gotten those reps. You know , they've been throwing the ball , catching the ball. So we just try to maximize and practice the catching the throwing because that's something that we've seen as a we've been deficient compared to those teams. But other than that , you know , schematic wise , I think we're there with them. We just need to get more in game reps and we can catch up to them pretty soon.

S1: And Gisele mentioned Mexicali players.

S7: You know , I think a couple years back they played us for like the national title or whatever in Mexico , kind of blew them out. So , you know , it's very popular in Mexicali , you know , men's leagues and women's leagues and coed leagues. So , you know , they've had a club team in Calexico. You know , that's where Vincent and Calexico High School are. So those girls , they half of them went to Vince and half way to Calexico. So they're , you know , they've been playing for years , so they're way ahead of the curve on this. Yeah.


S7: I know there is colleges that do it , but I don't know if it's a full sanctioned sport or if it's just intramurals at this point , but I'm pretty sure it's getting the high school it'll eventually cross over to Collegiate. Yeah.

S9: Yeah.


S6: This is just as I said , this is just a really good way just getting physical out here as I'm an off season. So I really enjoyed it. It's only been a couple games that I really love playing it and it's just something different for me.

S4: Uh , same here. I plan to continue playing football for my next few years in high school. I find it really fun and exciting to be able to be able to be a part of this.

S1: And to be able to make history here , too , right ? Yes.


S1: That's pretty cool. So tell us about your next game.

S4: But I think that we could push through and we could get there if we do our best. To put everything we learned out there on the field.



S1: Well , best of luck to you all. On your next game , I've been speaking with Hannah Johnson and Giselle Cabrillo from Imperial High School's girls varsity flag football team , along with her coach , Victor Cruz. Again , thank you all for telling us more about your sport and your team and good luck on the rest of the season.

S4: Thank you so much for having us today.

S6: Thank you for having us. Thank you.

S7: Very much.

S1: What are your thoughts on youth sports ? Is competition good for kids or should sports just be about the fun ? Give us a call. (619) 452-0228. You can leave a message or you can email us at. It Day at Kpbs. Org. We'd love to share your ideas and thoughts here on the show. Don't forget to watch Evening Edition tonight at five for in-depth reporting on San Diego issues. Of course , we'll be back tomorrow at noon with a conversation on student loan debt payments as they start to resume. And if you ever miss a show , you can find the Midday Edition podcast on all platforms. I'm Jade Hindman. Thanks for listening.

Syndel Murillo, 16, left, and Shale Harris, 15, reach for a pass as they try out for the Redondo Union High School girls flag football team on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022, in Redondo Beach, Calif.
Ashley Landis
Syndel Murillo, 16, left, and Shale Harris, 15, reach for a pass as they try out for the Redondo Union High School girls flag football team on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022, in Redondo Beach, Calif.

Football season is back, and girls' flag football will be played at high schools across the region. The California Interscholastic Federation, which governs high school athletics, added the sport earlier this year, and now, 45 high schools across San Diego County and the desert region have girls flag football teams.

On Tuesday's Midday Edition, KPBS Midday Edition will hear from members in Imperial High School's girls varsity flag football team and a local sports reporter on the growing sport.


John Maffei, sportswriter, San Diego Union-Tribune

Victor Cruz, coach, Imperial High School girls flag football team

Giselle Carillo, player, Imperial High School girls flag football team

Hannah Johnson, player, Imperial High School girls flag football team