football girls flag

Macy Fowler can’t wait to play football for Ravenwood.

“Extremely,” Fowler said when asked how excited she is to have a girls flag football team at Ravenwood.

The Raptors and eight other teams will compete in the inaugural Williamson County Girls Flag Football League, a pilot program for the TSSAA.

The season begins March 27.

“(The other girls at school have) all been really excited about it and definitely very involved and focused and, like, dedicated to it and they’re ready to play, for sure,” Fowler said.

Fowler thinks she will play linebacker, the same position her dad, Ryan, played in the NFL for six seasons, including two years with the Titans.

“He thinks it’s really good for the school and all the girls,” Macy said.

Macy, who also plays lacrosse and wrestles, said the football players have been supportive of the flag football team.

“They actually wanted to coach it, but we were, like, no, we’re just going to let real coaches do it, but I told them that they could be cheerleaders, so that’s an option,” Fowler said.

Raptors football coach Will Hester is coaching the flag football team and girls soccer coach Jessica Mancini is his assistant.

Mancini led the soccer team to the state title in 2020.

Fowler played football as a freshman and was a student assistant coach last year as a sophomore.

“The girls are putting a lot of effort and time into this, practicing a couple of times a week,” Hester said. “We’ve got a lot of soccer girls out there and we’ve got a bunch of girls that play rugby and all kinds of different sports.”

Football is new to most of the players, but Hester said they’re learning quickly due to high athletic IQs.

“It’s been wildly popular,” Williamson County School System Athletic Directory Darrin Joines said of the local response to the pilot program.

The cost for flag football is relatively low.

The regular season will last for four weeks with doubleheader games on Sundays to avoid conflicts with sanctioned spring sports.

“So after four weeks, you’ll have played everybody in the district,” Joines said. “We’re not breaking it up by classifications.”

Ravenwood, Summit, Fairview, Independence, Nolensville, Brentwood, Centennial, Page and Franklin will each field a team.

All nine teams will be coached by a football head coach, former head coach or assistant.

“We felt like we needed to do that to give it some clout, so to speak,” Joines said. “We wanted to make sure that people knew this is not like homecoming powder puff. This is like the real deal.”

There will also be female assistant coaches to help the sport grow.

A postseason tournament will be held to crown a champion.

“It’s been really exciting just being a part of it and I can’t wait to get this thing going.” Joines said. “I’m telling you, man, it’s going to be great.”

Adidas is helping to supply the players with uniforms and equipment.

This will be the only flag football league in Tennessee this season.

“Of course, this is being funded by the NFL Foundation and the Titans Foundation and Williamson County was willing to say, ‘Hey, we’ll pilot the program. I think we can get enough interest,’ ” TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said. “So our office is working with them and the Titans to get this off the ground and we feel it's going to be just a matter of maybe a year before we’re going to have interest all across the state.”

The TSSAA is already getting inquiries from East Tennessee on how to get involved with the flag football program.

“It’s just going to be a matter of time before we feel like it’s going to be a sport that takes off in Tennessee and possibly sanctioned by our organization,” Childress said. “When we talk about it in national meetings with (other) directors, the interest is basically all across the country.”

The TSSAA Legislative Council could vote to sanction flag football if it believes all schools have the potential to field teams.

There isn’t a requirement for a percentage or number of teams playing the sport statewide.

“I mean, it’s a win-win for everyone when you can get the interest and create another opportunity for girls to participate,” Childress said.

Girls flag football is a sanctioned sport in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Alaska and Nevada.

In Georgia, the sport has grown from 88 teams in its first full season in 2020 to 224 next year.

An inaugural flag football league established by the Eagles will debut in Philadelphia this spring.

There have also been pilot programs in Chicago, New Jersey and Montana.

The National Federation of State High School Associations has partnered with the NFL to help foster the growth of girls flag football.

Page coach Charles Rathbone has been surprised by his players’ athleticism.

“We’ve had 40 or so girls wanting to play and they’re excited about the opportunity to just get out there and catch the football, throw the football, learn the game, run,” Rathbone said. “They’re eat up with it. It’s going to be a very fast-growing sport.”

Catching the ball has been the most difficult skill to learn for the Lady Patriots.

“Most of these girls are either soccer players or volleyball players, so they’re not used to catching anything,” Rathbone said. “But the biggest (surprise) is just the hand-eye coordination with pulling the flags and how fast they are and being able to make cuts and breaks and things like that. That’s been impressive to me.”

Rathbone takes a simplified approach to coaching flag football since the sport is new to most of the players.

“Make sure they don’t take anything for granted,” said Rathbone, who coached the boys football team to a state runner-up finish in December. “Don’t assume they know what a hitch route is or don’t assume that they know what a slant route is. Just try to set some cones up and teach them the best you can.”

The Page football players have offered to teach the girls terminology and throw with them.

“I don’t know how much of that’s wanting to help or if they’re trying to get a girlfriend, but they’re definitely willing to come out there and help,” Rathbone said.

Most of the Page players participate in the fall and winter sports since the flag football practices overlap with spring sports practices.

Page senior Tia Atkinson, who has played quarterback and wide receiver at practice, grew up watching football.

“So being able to play and actually do what we see on TV is super exciting,” Atkinson said.

Page sophomore Anna Baker, who has played receiver and cornerback in practice, has been getting a mixed reaction from people when she tells them she’s on a football team.

“They’re very shocked, but then they’re very supportive,” Baker said. “I’ve had a lot of people asking when our games are, wanting to come out and watch.”

She hopes to play soccer in college.

“I really like how (flag football) correlates to soccer, where I can use my speed and moves to get past the defender,” said Baker, whose favorite football teams are Clemson and the Indianapolis Colts. “Something about growing up watching the sport and actually being able to do it now just seems amazing.”

Page senior Erin Crawford, who hopes to play running back this season, is grateful for the opportunity to be on the team.

“I think it’s very important for girls to have a chance at a sport like football and get a good girls team out there,” Crawford said.

There have been a lot of positive vibes from the Nolensville players for the flag football team.

“I think they’ve showed a lot of energy and a lot of excitement, passion at just being able to try something new and so that’s been really fun to be around,” Knights coach Pat Curran said. “Anytime that we get to be able to spread the game that we all love coaching and teach it to a new audience basically, it’s pretty exciting for us.”

Two of the Knights have brothers on the boys football team: Elle Tamaska (Zion) and Jaden Davis (Gary).

Nolensville has a young team with mostly freshmen and sophomores.

Many of the Knights aren’t on other sports teams at Nolensville.

“I think being in the South, football is something that people are every passionate about, so I do think that there is a really good chance that we can grow it,” said Curran, the offensive coordinator on the boys team. “I think picking Williamson County to do it was – I mean, I’m biased, but it was a great place to start a pilot program because of the passion for football in Williamson County as well.”