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Adopting girls’ flag football is the right play for Colorado schools

It’s here. Football season in Colorado.

The Denver Broncos are about to kick off their 54th season in the National Football League. Local colleges are already back on the gridiron. Centennial and Central high schools in Pueblo are gearing up for “The Bell Game” — the oldest high school football rivalry west of the Mississippi River, dating back to 1892.

Another big story to watch is in Littleton. That’s where the Chatfield Chargers will defend their title as Colorado’s first-ever girls’ flag football state champions.

This is exciting because the young women of Chatfield Senior High School symbolize the explosive growth of flag football, especially among girls. Their team is part of a much larger movement with more than 20 million participants in 100-plus countries. In the U.S., around 474,000 girls under the age of 17 played flag last year — 63% more than 2019.

Colorado had 22 schools competing in girls’ flag in 2022, the inaugural year of a three-year pilot program. Today nearly 60 schools are in the hunt for Chatfield’s trophy. The momentum shows beyond a doubt that girls’ flag football can thrive in high schools statewide.

Sanctioning flag as a varsity sport is the next step. The Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) could make it official within the next year — joining nine other states, including Arizona, California, Alabama and New York.

That’s notable for several reasons.

First, and most important, is the simple truth that flag opens the doors for girls and women to participate in football. Through the sport, they can learn valuable life lessons, pursue athletic scholarships or aspire to the most elite levels.

We tell our kids to dream big. Being recruited by a college team or representing your country on the world stage — these stakes are on the table right now. Colorado’s girls deserve a chance to reach for them.

Then there’s the larger societal benefit of getting more kids involved in athletics, regardless of the game they’re playing.

CHSAA commissioner Mike Krueger was right when he said recently, “What’s our obligation? … Are we helping kids fall in love with sport, and falling in love with participating in sport?”

Young women have made it known that they want to play flag football — just look at the jump in participation in the second year of Colorado’s pilot program. Around 150 girls who signed up in 2022 had never played a high school sport. So, let’s listen. Let’s act. Let’s view it as our obligation and do the work to ensure flag is here to stay.

The sport’s continued availability in Colorado hinges on more than participation. Budgets, field space, scheduling and the availability of referees and coaches will be factors, too. Here’s the good news: the sport is positioned for success on all fronts.

Equipment is minimal, making flag one of the most cost-effective programs to launch. The Broncos, the NFL and partners such as Nike have chipped in to make it even more affordable for local schools.

The sport can be played on practically any field or gym, and really any open area at all; programs won’t need to find specialized space for competition.

CHSAA’s jamboree-style game days — where a site hosts at least three matchups on Saturdays — has made it easier to schedule resources like referees and assist with transportation.

And the pool of officials and coaches only stands to grow as more people get involved. Chatfield running back Caitlin Dennis is already in the pipeline, giving back to her community as a youth flag referee. In July, a 61-year-old woman who’s applied to be a flag football coach wrote to me on social media, saying, “It’s a bucket list thing, to finally be a part of the game I have loved all my life.”

It’s my hope that flag will be sanctioned for girls across Colorado. But it’s not a given. The path includes committee approvals before it heads to a deciding vote by the CHSAA.

The decision is crystal clear for me — a former professional football player, current NFL executive, husband, father and granddad. It’s 2023. Football should be for all. My kids and yours, regardless of gender.

Colorado, which is so tied to football’s history, has a chance to cement its place in the sport’s future by sanctioning flag.

Statewide adoption is the right play — and the time to call it is coming soon.

Troy Vincent Sr. is the executive vice president of football operations for the National Football League and a five-time Pro Bowler. He also serves as the co-chair of Vision28, a partnership with the International Federation of American Football to lead flag football’s inclusion in the 2028 Summer Olympics.

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