GPS girls part of trailblazing movement
This is a monumental year in sports for the state of Arizona. For the first time ever, the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) is recognizing girls flag football as a sanctioned sport. The inaugural season kicked off in late August with five Gilbert Public Schools teams among the 55 across the state.
“In the beginning, the only person who had played flag football was Mariah. Everyone else didn’t know the rules, didn’t know the strategies, or anything. We really built from ground zero,” said Elizabeth Romero, a junior at Mesquite High School.
Mesquite High, Campo Verde, Desert Ridge High, Gilbert High and Highland High all have girls flag football teams this year. At Mesquite, there are 24 players on the team. The flag football season is structured with games played on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and each team is set to play 12 games throughout the regular season. For those unfamiliar with flag football, there are some key differences from tackle football, like fewer players on the field and not as much physical contact.
“It’s pretty aggressive still. There’s just no tackling and no pads,” said Mariah Willis, a sophomore at Mesquite High.
Willis is an experienced flag football player, having spent the past three years playing with her club team. She was inspired to play football after having watched her dad’s love for the sport. Her experience has allowed her to step up as a team leader, helping her fellow athletes become better and more confident in their positions.
“As a quarterback, Mariah helps me a lot with strategy. I haven’t played this very much, so it’s not always easy to see things like “oh, that spot is always open, or that girl is weak.” She helps me a lot,” Romero said.
The Wildcats practice every day for 90 minutes, except on game days. They also do team bonding activities to help get to know each other and build camaraderie.
“I feel like we all try to be very welcoming to everyone,” said Jordyn Flores, a junior, “We try to play everybody, and it’s just overall a fun time.”
Ilyana Flores, a senior on the team, is being recognized by the Arizona Cardinals for her playing skills. She was invited along with a family member to a game this season in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. She is also up for the Player of the Year competition, where, if selected as the winner, she would be invited to attend the next Super Bowl.
“I was surprised to be honest, because I’ve never even talked with them, so I didn’t know how they would like know me. I guess I was nominated for Player of the Week a lot, but I never actually won,” she said.
There are only a few weeks left in the regular season. Teams across the state are fighting for their chance at the first-ever state championship in girls flag football. Playoffs start October 24 with the big game to be decided on November 4. No matter the outcome, all of the players should be proud of their success, because they are inspiring the next generation of girls flag football stars.
“I never even thought about playing flag football when I was little. It just never seemed like an option for me. Me and Ilyana were talking about it. We were at a field for soccer practice, and on that field, we saw a bunch of little girls having flag football practice. I wish I had started playing earlier. I wish this had been an option for me,” said Jordyn Flores.