While the eight games played at Nissan Stadium eventually crowned a champion for the inaugural season of Girls Flag Football, the season-capping event served a bigger purpose.
It began building a foundation for other school systems to adopt the pilot program pioneered in Williamson County with backing from the Tennessee Titans and TSSAA.
And although Ravenwood ran away with the inaugural title with a 42-0 victory over Page in the championship game, it wasn’t indicative of how competitive the league was all season. Page had just knocked off unbeaten regular-season champion Franklin in the semifinals and Ravenwood needed a late defensive stop to keep Fairview out of the title game.
In fact, all nine teams had their moments through the season, as a sign that the sport could certainly grow not just in the Nashville area, but statewide. Interest has already been shown from Metro Nashville and Rutherford County, and those areas could come on board sooner rather than later.
“I think it’s just going to get bigger and bigger and bigger,” Ravenwood head coach Will Hester said. “I think it was kind of a collaborative effort of all the groups, including the media and the Titans to help build this, because we’ve all been playing what we would call ‘powderpuff’ games at homecoming.
“But now these girls have been given a platform to practice and compete and walk through the tunnel at Nissan Stadium and see their picture on the jumbotron – I mean, how cool is that for a high school girl who may or may not have played a sport of any kind in their life?”
With the goal being full sanctioning from the TSSAA, there are some logistical challenges that await the sport – athletes in other sports may have to miss events if they do decide to double-up in the spring, and what day the games should be held is in question. A weeknight might draw larger crowds – and that’s what Page head coach Charles Rathbone would like to see if he could make the choice.
“I’m hoping we can get games on Friday nights, that’s what I’d like to do,” Rathbone said. “Start the games at 5, (play at) five, six, seven, be done at eight and everybody has their weekends back. I know that may interfere with some other sports, but no matter what sport you play, you’re going to interfere with some other sport somehow.”
But it’s not likely to go away, especially with the NFL already heading programs in other areas and states such as Georgia and Alabama had already sanctioned the sport. It isn’t terribly cost-prohibitive – uniforms and flags are the biggest expense, but there isn’t a ton more needed to get games going except athlete interest.
“I’ve always dreamed of playing football,” Ravenwood senior quarterback Sarah Kate Rath said. “I’ve always told my dad ‘I wish I could play,’ and now that this year we’ve been able to play flag football, it’s so cool to be in this stadium and just see everyone so happy and play together.”
That’s why it’s a likely proposition that 2023 should see additional schools join the fray, and it shouldn’t just be from the larger counties. Let’s play some flag football at Trousdale County on the creekbank in the spring. Let’s get teams from Springfield and Smith County involved. Even some of the smaller schools that don’t have football programs could certainly get involved, especially if they have track athletes, soccer, and basketball players. The Division II schools won’t want to be left out, either.
“I think it’s contagious,” Rathbone said. “We didn’t have any track girls, no softball girls, and I think you’ll see a lot more of them out there next year.”
With the sport potentially appearing in the Olympics by decade’s end, growing the game at a grassroots level seems like a no-brainer.
It also puts those female athletes in the spotlight and helps show what they can do – good luck going one-on-one against Ravenwood standout Kaylen Thomas when she spins past you like a top or guarding Fairview’s tandem of Summer Anderson and LilyAnn McElroy. Franklin’s defense largely refused to let anyone in the end zone until Page got hot in the tournament.
“Flag football has been amazing,” Thomas said. “I wish I could be a freshman again and just go back and play for four more years.”
It’s been an enjoyable six weeks watching the game develop and there’s no reason 2023 shouldn’t be bigger and better.
Follow Chris Brooks on Twitter @Brooks_615 and follow 615 Preps on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok @615Preps.