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Play like a girl: Girl’s Flag Football as a Sanctioned Sport

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Mizzou chapter.

When you think of college sports, football likely comes to mind. Now, how many of those athletes are women? In the past month, female athletes have started to bleed into the male-dominated sport of football more and more. 

The most common role for a female player on a college football team is as kicker. This position is often played by women who grew up playing soccer. Sarah Fuller is an example of this. In 2020, Fuller made history as the first woman to not only play for a Power 5 football team but also to score in a game. Sports Illustrated explained, “the [Vanderbilt] senior took the world by storm, empowering women of all ages to do what many thought was impossible—break barriers and make history. In other words, play like a girl.” 

Since then, having a female kicker has become a more common way for women to be represented in football. 

On September 23, 2023, Haley Van Voorhis became the first woman to play on the field in a non-kicker position. Voorhis of Shenandoah University is a safety on the university’s football team. Her position as a safety is to work defensively on receivers and apply pressure on the other team’s quarterback. ESPN spoke with Van Voorhis’ mother who explained “As a child, Van Voorhis was more surprised by the lack of girls playing football than discouraged by it. Looking back, [her mother] said, ‘I guess she didn’t take it as if there couldn’t be any.’” 

As more college athletes continue to make history, it sparks the question: what if women were introduced sooner to football? What if there were ways for girls to start out in high school, with the chance of going into college as a female football player?

The lack of women on the football field may change with Arizona’s new statewide girls’ flag football program. This year is the first year girls’ flag football is a sanctioned sport in Arizona. Young girls who love the sport now have the opportunity to play on one of the 57 official high school teams. 

August 29, 2023 marked the start date for women in sports to potentially have a larger future in flag football. In an interview with Fox 10 Phoenix, Freshman Amaya Moreno from Mountain Pointe High School says, “It means everything to me because when I first started playing football, I never envisioned it going anywhere, if I’m being honest. But now the Arizona Cardinals are here, I can play at the collegiate level, it’s just amazing that us girls get this opportunity.” 

The NFL has always been a contributor to youth flag football but is now advocating for girls to have an equal opportunity to get involved. NFL team Arizona Cardinals and Nike provided a $100,000 check to the new Arizona teams. With this money, they can purchase jerseys and equipment to help start up the fast-growing sport. The NFL is invested in growing flag football to include everyone who enjoys the sport. To back the girls’ leagues, they will be launching scholarship programs as well.

Arizona is one of eight states with girls flag football as a sanctioned sport and that number is hoping to grow. Former NFL football player, Troy Vincent Sr. says, “Time and again, girls show us that given the opportunity, they come to play.” 

“The NFL is all in. We’re not going to stop until flag football — the most inclusive, accessible version of our great sport — is ubiquitous.” – Troy Vincent Sr.

NFL Football Operations

From Sarah Fuller to the growing involvement in flag football as a sanctioned sport, progress is being made. 

“We deserve that recognition. I think that’s pretty impressive and just all the things that women in sports have done. It doesn’t matter what sport it is. They’ve done amazing things and I think we need to acknowledge that and it needs to be hyped up,” Fuller said in an interview with NCAA

Coverage of women in sports is often less than male-dominated sports like football. With the emerging implementation of gender-inclusive flag football across the nation, this may be a step in the right direction for female athletes across many sports. Women are athletes too, and to be recognized for their hard work is fulfilling and should be expected. 

Nicole Bidwill with the NFL team explained to Fox 10 Phoenix, “These women have been fans of football for so long, and they’re finally being recognized at the high school level. We’re excited to be out here supporting them, they’re trailblazing for other women who really want to play.” 

With the climbing numbers of girls’ flag football involvement, the coverage and recognition of women in sports could be completely altered. Here’s to female athletes continuing to make history. 

For more information on the Arizona Cardinals’ flag football program, you can visit https://www.azcardinals.com/youth/girls-football/ 

Ellie Weien

Mizzou '26

My name is Ellie Weien and I am studying Strategic Communications at the MU J-School. I have always loved the outdoors, hiking and camping as I grew up in Colorado. But aside from nature I grew up loving rom-coms, reality tv, music and fashion. I'm excited to be writing for Her Campus to highlight and share topics I find interesting and enjoy.