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The fastest-growing sport in Pennsylvania? Girls flag football


Amidst the excitement of Super Bowl LVII, a commercial starring the captain of Mexico's National Flag Football Team, Diana Flores, rolled on screens across the globe. The World Flag Football Championship MVP artfully dodged NFL stars, FOX's Erin Andrews – and even her own mother, captivating viewers with her impressive football aptitude. The advertisement showcased the sport in front of a worldwide audience, signaling its rapid growth.

Springtime is the "offseason" for the NFL, but for a swiftly growing contingent of young female high school athletes across the Philadelphia area and beyond, the changing of the seasons marks the arrival of their turn to get on the gridiron.

Flag football season in the city is on the horizon, and the Eagles are committed to guiding it toward becoming a state-sanctioned high school sport in Pennsylvania. On Saturday at the NovaCare Complex, the Eagles kicked off this season's action, hosting the second annual Girls Flag Football Jamboree presented by NovaCare Rehabilitation for 48 local Girls Flag Football teams across Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The day featured an exciting schedule of events, curated to amplify the excitement surrounding the upcoming season. There were competitive scrimmages, team photo shoots, custom uniform reveals, and on-site support from coaches, staff, and Eagles players like Brandon Graham, Jordan Mailata, and K'Von Wallace.

Operation Warm was in attendance as well – the organization working hand in hand with the Eagles, graciously donated a sports bra to each participant.

"As an organization, we are committed to removing barriers for girls to play the game. Through the creation of leagues and the distribution of necessary equipment like sports bras – we believe we are opening the door for all girls to play the game we all love," said Eagles Youth Football & Community Relations Manager Dan Levy.

Last spring, the Philadelphia Eagles ushered in a new era of football, launching the area's inaugural high school Girls Flag Football League presented by Planet Fitness, The Bellwether District, and Gatorade. The 16-team initiative was met with booming interest and success – so much so, that the number of participating schools has more than doubled for the 2023 season.

"​In the last year in the Philadelphia area, it has just expanded so much. I give a lot of applause to the Eagles – the Eagles' support is just awesome and the sport is just going to keep growing more and more," said Mike Reimel, Wissahickon High School's head coach.

"It's really cool to me to have a girl come out here, run around, and catch the ball. I just see the smile that says, 'Yeah, I can do this!' That's what I think honestly really spreads it. These athletes, they want to compete. They want to try something new. They want to be the best at what they're doing."

The Eagles hosted the second annual Girls Flag Football Jamboree, presented by NovaCare Rehabilitation, at the NovaCare Complex on Saturday. Forty-eight teams from the high school Girls Flag League presented by Planet Fitness, The Bellwether District, and Gatorade participated in the Jamboree. Check out the best photos!

Last season, Reimel led local powerhouse Lansdale Catholic to the league's first championship, but in an effort to grow the sport, he made the decision to help build Wissahickon's program from the ground up, accepting a new role coaching the school's first team.

"I actually teach at the middle school, and I went to the high school's athletic director at the end of the season, and said 'Hey, you need to do this.' Basically, he gave me an option. He said, 'We'll do it. But you have to coach.'"

Reimel has been an influential supporter in the flag football community for more than a decade, witnessing its swift evolution each step of the way. But still, when droves of high schoolers arrived to try out to be founding players for Wissahickon's programs – he was in awe. He counted an astounding 52 interested athletes.

"Flag is a sport for everyone. It doesn't matter your size, your color, your height, or your age. It's for everyone," said Reimel.

"When I went to the first practice, and all these girls actually showed up, some not knowing anything about football or flag football, it showed the desire to try something new, but also try something that the boys already do. It just gives them an opportunity to do something that they've been told all their life they can't do."

Wissahickon is one of 22 teams joining the league for the 2022 season – a total of 38 teams across the area have committed to competing this spring. Another 14 teams have done so in New Jersey. In order for girls flag football to become a state-sanctioned high school sport, there must be 100 participating schools across Pennsylvania.

"I was a little surprised at first, just to see how it turned out," said Lansdale Catholic quarterback Bridget Keyser, reflecting on the first year of the league.

"I didn't know how many girls were going to show up, and not only just show up, but be able to really be good at it, catch on, and love it. It's not like a lot of people can get this opportunity, so when we do get the opportunity, it just opens so many doors."

Keyser is one of the hundreds of athletes who have benefited from the league's creation. Her first experience playing football was just five years ago – and she said it best, since then, doors have flown open.

After posting a highlight reel on her Instagram featuring her flag football skills, she garnered interest from college programs across the country, kickstarting her college recruitment process. After speaking with multiple coaches and visiting campuses, she earned the opportunity to play at the next level on scholarship at Milligan University in Tennessee.

"At first, I was very nervous, I couldn't even throw a football," Keyser said. "But the whole flag football community is just like, one big network of support.

"I hope that one day flag is in almost every high school in Pennsylvania, every high school in America, because it gives girls an opportunity for so many different things – they could play in college, they could want to make a career out of it – it opens up so many doors and connections."

Flag football is changing the lives of girls like Keyser across the state, and the Eagles are committed to helping facilitate its expansion every step of the way.

"I think every high school needs to pick it up because there's definitely a girl out there who is waiting for an opportunity," Keyser said.

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