The revolution is coming.
The front lines began to form with coaches like Corey Thedford, who was signed to coach the Hawthorne High girls’ flag football team in the Champions League sponsored by the Rams and Chargers. It began with a first game that Thedford called a “train wreck”. The girls just went out to have fun.
Months later, Thedford had taught a run-pass option offense to girls who had never played soccer. The light bulbs went on and the news of an exciting outdoor sport sparked camaraderie. These were athletes thinking about changing their primary sport from basketball, volleyball, or soccer to one they had been playing for a few months.
Hawthorne is fully committed to women’s flag football. Also Gardena Serra, who won the Champions League title on Sunday. Also Long Beach Poly, and a large majority of Orange County and Corona area schools, multiply interest in the heart of Los Angeles.
“I really don’t think everyone understands how big this is going to be,” Thedford said. “I’m going to compare this to US women’s soccer. [surge] years ago. … I think it’s going to be something like that. I think it’s going to be a forest fire.”
After years of discussion and proposals, the final spark was ignited on Friday afternoon when the CIF Federated Council voted to add women’s flag football as a sanctioned sport. A vast field of unanswered questions remains: budget concerns, scheduling, training, and more.
The state will draft specific bylaws for women’s flag football before a final council meeting in late April. Until then, here’s a guide to what you need to know about women’s flag football in the Southland.
the rule book
Until guidance is created by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the CIF will use the rules for women’s flag football provided by the National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA). acronym in English). There are many fun variations of the American football rules:
—The games are played seven against seven, according to Paula Hart Rodas, president of the council of the CIF Southern Section. The CIF could 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 stops (incompletions, new series, etc.) take effect during the final two minutes .
—Touchdowns are still worth six points, but teams can try to get extra points that are worth more over extended distances. A successful conversion from the 3-yard line is worth one point, from the 10-yard line is worth two, and from the 20-yard line is worth three.
—The dimensions of the field are more complicated and are 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 for the City to measure 70 by 30 yards. Games in the Champions League tournament on Sunday were played inside a 53-by-25-yard formation to conserve field space.
The total initial cost of a program to host 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, are likely to help with donations and stipends for programs that need help.
Coaching stipends become more complicated, particularly in public schools whose budgets are controlled by districts.
“They’re going to have to find the money … what you have for the boys, you have to have for the girls,” said Mike Stephens, Compton Centennial’s athletic director. “And it’s cheaper, too.”
Who is interested?
Rodas said the entire Corona-Norco district committed to putting together a team. Enthusiasm in Orange County is also growing, particularly in Anaheim Unified. And the Compton Unified School District, 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. One concern, however, is the tentative plan to schedule women’s flag football as a fall sport.
Welcome to the most controversial and ambiguous area of the introduction of the sport. The first issue is whether the girls’ flag will be blown in the fall or spring, which ignited the debate during a Southern Section council meeting in the fall.
“I hope it’s in the spring,” Stephens said, “but they’re going to put it with football season.”
One of the main concerns of a fall season is the lack of available officers. The Southern Section, said Rodas, will explore the recruitment of new officials from the flag youth leagues.
Based on conversations with coaches and administrators, there are three schools of thought on when games can be played in the fall:
Monday: Host tournament-style round-robin games that can accommodate multiple games at once on the same field on Monday afternoons and evenings, thus conserving field space.
Thursday: Thedford brought up an interesting suggestion for the girls to play the exact opposite of the boys’ JV tackle team schedule.
Friday: Play a doubleheader with the men’s tackle team.
Those weekday scheduling decisions will be up to individual leagues after the state sets the total number of games to be played.
who is going to train
Birmingham’s Thedford and Jim Rose want to be women’s tackle and pennant coaches at the same time. Overall, though, the Southern Section will push for more female representation in head coaching roles under Title IX, Rodas said.
“Some of the people are … fighting to be a fall sport, because our football coaches want to coach it,” Rodas said. “But that is not the point. It is a women’s sport that will be coached by women.”
The idea, Rodas said, is not to exclude men interested in being coaches, but to provide more leadership opportunities for women and give girls a female role model.
There is a faster path to a playoff bracket in the City Section than in the South Section.
Only six schools in the city, according to Dornan, need field teams to have a girls’ flag football playoff group. But in the Southern Section, 20% of all schools in the section are required to have a team, and it takes an initial season to determine how to rank teams into divisions.
A realistic schedule: The City Section will hold girls’ flag football playoffs next fall in its inaugural year, temporarily scheduled for November, Dornan said, and the South Section will have its first playoffs in the 2024-25 school year.
In the meantime, a state bracket will not be developed until there are “viable section champions first,” according to CIF associate executive director Brian Seymour.
The CIF decision comes in the midst of a perfect storm.
Interest in women’s sports has grown steadily across the country. The endorsement opportunities for high school athletes are endless thanks to NIL laws. And according to the Associated Press, the NFL is pushing for the addition of flag football to the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.
Thedford has been recruiting all over the Hawthorne campus, trying to reach girls who haven’t found their niche in sports. Sell them in a dream. By doing something they never thought possible.
Life-changing opportunities are already unfolding. Gardena Serra is teaming up with the Chargers to host a showcase of programs across Southern California on February 18, playing in front of scouts from a handful of Midwestern colleges that play flag football. Thedford said they will hand out scholarships on the spot.
“It’s his moment in history to do it,” Thedford said. “The door is there, and all you have to do is seize the opportunity.”