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Girls ‘Thriving’ With New High School Flag-Football Opportunities

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Girls ‘Thriving’ With New High School Flag-Football Opportunities

Arnold O. Beckman High School in Irvine, Calif., on Sept. 9, 2023. (Sophie Li/The Epoch Times)

Dan Wood

Dan Wood

9/7/2023

Updated: 9/9/2023

IRVINE, Calif.—Born into a football-loving family that includes an older and a younger brother, Katelyn McAlister grew up watching the NFL, rooting passionately for the nomadic Las Vegas Raiders.
Julia Jimenea was “never the biggest fan,” but asked her father questions during professional and college telecasts “to try to get a better understanding of the game.”
Like many others, meanwhile, Ava Meade didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to football most of the time. She would usually tune in to the Super Bowl, but not much else.
Now, in the first season in which the CIF Southern Section is sanctioning girls’ flag football as an official sport, the three Beckman High School seniors find themselves gridiron teammates. All play linebacker, with McAlister and Meade also seeing time at cornerback.
Similar scenarios are playing out all over California, with girls seizing football opportunities that had long been available only to boys.
“I always wished I could play,” McAlister told The Epoch Times. “I always wanted to be that girl on the football team, the kicker, but then it turned out I could actually be on a football team with other girls included. I feel like you always heard football is for boys—no girls involved. But now it is a girls’ sport.”
Beckman High School girls' flag football team's Katelyn McAlister (5) in Irvine, Calif. (Courtesy of Alan Diaz)

Beckman High School girls' flag football team's Katelyn McAlister (5) in Irvine, Calif. (Courtesy of Alan Diaz)

For many girls, merely being exposed to flag football provided all the impetus necessary to want to play.
“Katelyn McAlister, she’s my best friend, and she was on the [club] team last year,” Meade told The Epoch Times. “I would go to her games, and I remember thinking all the girls were so supportive of each other. The atmosphere seemed super fun. That’s what made me want to be a part of it, and it’s been pretty much exactly what I expected.”
Meade also plays lacrosse and found the differences between the sports to be stimulating.
“I honestly am just learning now what a first down is,” she said. “All the terminology, I had no idea. We’re all learning together. That’s why it’s cool.”
Beckman High School girls' flag football team's Ava Meade (6) in Irvine, Calif. (Courtesy of Alan Diaz)

Beckman High School girls' flag football team's Ava Meade (6) in Irvine, Calif. (Courtesy of Alan Diaz)

Despite having only two girls who had played previously among the 36 who make up varsity and junior varsity squads, Beckman is progressing rapidly. The Patriots have won four of their first five games, including a 12–7 victory over visiting Northwood in their Sept. 6 Pacific Coast League opener.
As is the case in any sport, familiarity generally increases the intensity level.
“Especially with the teams that had teams last year, and also just knowing girls from other sports,” said McAlister, who like Jimenea, has long played soccer. “There are so many girls I play against who I’ve known previously, so it’s kind of like it’s a joke, but it’s not a joke at all. It gets really competitive.”
Beckman High School girls' flag football team's Julia Jimenea (10) in Irvine, Calif. (Courtesy of Alan Diaz)

Beckman High School girls' flag football team's Julia Jimenea (10) in Irvine, Calif. (Courtesy of Alan Diaz)

Games are played seven-on-seven, take place on shorter, narrower fields than are customary for boys, and feature smaller footballs. The basics, though, are the same.
“The challenge was just understanding the game itself, the rules,” Beckman Coach Pierre Sanjurjo told The Epoch Times. “A lot of the girls play different sports. They do love to compete, and being athletes, they pick it up pretty quickly.”
Previously an unsanctioned club sport for girls, with relatively few high schools fielding teams, flag football has grown quickly and dramatically. In the Southern Section alone, 114 schools registered to play this season, Assistant Commissioner Kristine Palle told The Epoch Times.
That is a significant number, considering it represents just more than 20 percent of the 565 schools within the Southern Section. And 20 percent participation is the minimum for the section to sponsor post-season championship competition.
Track field at Arnold O. Beckman High School in Irvine, Calif., on Sept. 9, 2023. (Sophie Li/The Epoch Times)

Track field at Arnold O. Beckman High School in Irvine, Calif., on Sept. 9, 2023. (Sophie Li/The Epoch Times)

“With any sport, we get through one season first, see the actual numbers once the season has finished, and go from there,” Ms. Palle said. “I anticipate that we will have a championship in year two. We are really excited to offer more opportunities and access for young women to participate in sports.”
Future possibilities certainly don’t end there. Coaches and scouts from several small-college women’s flag football programs are expected to attend the conclusion of a showcase tournament set for 3 p.m. Sept. 9 at Beckman, Mr. Sanjurjo said.
The field also includes Crean Lutheran, Woodbridge, Corona del Mar, Mission Viejo, Orange Lutheran, Newport Harbor, and St. Joseph.
Arnold O. Beckman High School in Irvine, Calif., on Sept. 9, 2023. (Sophie Li/The Epoch Times)

Arnold O. Beckman High School in Irvine, Calif., on Sept. 9, 2023. (Sophie Li/The Epoch Times)

While the NCAA does not sanction women’s flag football, the Division III Atlantic East Conference has announced plans to begin offering the sport in 2025. At least 15 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics schools across the county already field interscholastic teams while awarding athletic scholarships.
“As a senior, I won’t exactly get the chance to play in college, but it’s really exciting to know that other girls on our team, especially the freshmen, will have such big opportunities coming their way through this sport,” Jimenea told The Epoch Times. “It’s crazy to see how fast it’s growing and progressing.”
The International Olympic Committee, meanwhile, is scheduled to announce next month which of the nine sports under consideration will be added for the 2028 Olympics that will take place in Southern California. Women’s flag football is among the possibilities.
“You can’t just say football is a boys’ sport now,” McAlister said. “And it’s so cool to see that. Everyone is involved now. Girls are thriving.”
Dan Wood

Dan Wood

Author

Dan Wood is a community sports reporter based in Orange County, California. He has covered sports professionally for some 43 years, spending nearly three decades in the newspaper industry and 14 years in radio. He is an avid music fan, with a strong lean toward country and classic rock.

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