The San Francisco 49ers are committed to advancing opportunities for all youth in the game of football, and with the team's support, the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) unanimously passed the motion to make girls flag football a varsity sport across the state on Friday.
"We are thrilled with the results of the CIF vote, sanctioning girls flag football as a varsity sport in California," 49ers president Al Guido said. "This will further the opportunities for girls, both on and off the field."
The move by the CIF will make flag football an official sport for girls in the upcoming 2023-24 school year. California is now added to a growing list of states that have included girls flag football in high school athletic programs, such as Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada and New York.
"California is the latest and greatest state to pass the initiative," 49ers PREP senior manager Tucker Baksa said. "Hopefully there are more to come because it's not enough."
At the scholastic level, girls flag football participation has exponentially increased in recent years. In 2021, the NFL and Nike launched a $5 million grant toward the sport and the 49ers organization have supported girls in the sport in a multitude of ways.
49ers PREP has hosted a T.H.I.N.K. Gold! Conference, an event for high school female student athletes that focuses on supporting young women in their athletic endeavors and giving them an inside look at careers in professional sports. Running since 2009, the conference has served over 600 female high school student-athletes.
At least 48,000 girls have participated in 49ers PREP co-ed school camps that were introduced in 2014, most recently hosting an Inaugural Nike Girls Flag Skills Jamboree in 2022. The organization plans to host another girls jamboree with the next event slated for Spring 2023 with interest from 11 schools.
"We really want more women to be at the forefront in the world of sports, specifically in the football industry," flag football athlete, coach and 49ers associate counsel Myka Bell said. "It's a great opportunity for these young girls to truly immerse themselves in the world of football."
Based on data from the National Federation of High School Associations, over 15,000 girls played high school flag football in 2021-2022, which is a 40% increase over three years.
The initiative to make girls flag football a varsity sport in California was not only supported by the 49ers organization, but also by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
"As fellow governors of sporting bodies, I believe we share a desire to create as much access to sports as possible," Goodell wrote in a letter to voting members. "Including girls flag football as a varsity sport is a necessary step to grow an even more inclusive and accessible version of our game for youth everywhere... Football is a game that teaches leadership, resilience, teamwork, and character development: valuable life skills and lessons that translate from the field to the classroom and beyond. Every student in California should have the opportunity to experience all that the game of football has to offer."
With the new ruling in place, the 49ers plan to support the San Francisco Metro League with the partnership of Nike, who will outfit the flag team with new custom jerseys. The 49ers Foundation will also highlight a flag football coach and player of the week online and on social channels to amplify members of the sport.
"We are dedicated to championing the future of flag football and have full organizational buy-in to support high schools that implement girls flag football," general manager John Lynch wrote in a letter to voting members. "We will continue to serve as a resource for any school that is interested in pursuing flag football as a varsity sport and provide a platform to amplify female voices in the game of football... Every girl should have the right to play their sport of choice at the varsity level and beyond... At our core, we believe that football is for all."
This year, flag football was put in the spotlight during the 2023 Pro Bowl Games. The move to flag football in replacement of a tackle football game came from an agreement between the NFL players, the league and the NFL Players Association in an effort to re-vamp the event in a competitive, yet safer fashion. Tight end George Kittle, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, linebacker Fred Warner and safety Talanoa Hufanga represented the 49ers in the all-star flag football tournament.
Female flag football athletes were highlighted in the games as Mexico's national women's flag football athlete Diana Flores served as the AFC Team's offensive coordinator and National Flag and Touch Football Hall of Fame quarterback Vanita Krouch served as the NFC Team's offensive coordinator.
"To see the big guys get back to the basics of football, you could see the joy on their faces with being able to just play the game that they love," Bell said. "It was just all about the game of football. There were no stats involved, no minimums to reach, no goals to hit, nothing like that. They were just able to get back to being kids again and it was really a joy to see that with them."
The 49ers Foundation forecasts a large amount of engagement in flag football from girls across the Bay Area now that it has been established as a high school varsity sport and is receiving support from the NFL. Bell predicts the future of girls flag football to eventually take space beyond the high school level also.
"We're going to have a lot of engagement from these young women being able to participate in flag football. Now in high schools and potentially growing from there and having more collegiate participation, getting the NCAA involved and really making a push for it at that level," Bell said. "I just see it continuing to get stronger and have a much broader range. When it comes to 2028, seeing it in the Olympic Games, I think it's inevitable for that to happen. I'm looking forward to seeing how we're going to continue to grow this sport.
"It's only up from here and I'm really, really excited to see how this continues to grow and develop."
49ers PREP presented by U.S. Bank teamed up with Nike to host the first-ever Girls Flag Football Jamboree led by the first-female NFL coach, Dr. Jen Welter and local Bay Area coaches