DENVER (AP) — There were times when Joe Overstreet felt all alone as a standout flag football player on boys' teams growing up in Texas.
Sure, he was accepted. Considered just one of the boys.
She wanted something else – a feeling of sisterhood.
These days, the 40-year-old Team USA receiver sees a thriving community of women of all ages and all abilities who are taking the game to new heights. This is an expansion that will only be extended with the game Recently included in the Olympics program for 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles,
The fast-paced action non-contact game has really been on the rise for some time, with specialized teams and leagues for girls springing up from coast to coast – from one continent to another. Eight states have sanctioned girls flag football as a high school varsity sport – several states are starting pilot programs – and college scholarships are now offered to female players at the NAIA level. The NFL has also put in its full force Flag football through leagues and events,
"It's a huge thing for women to be able to say, 'My dream is to play soccer' — and to actually know that the opportunity is actually there," said Overstreet, a former University of Houston basketball player. In the mix for a roster spot on the inaugural Olympic roster. "Just saying this to myself, I'm still in shock."
Flag football is a game that many people may have grown up playing, either in gym class or through youth leagues in elementary school or perhaps on the playground at recess. This became even more visible last winter, when the NFL began flagging footballs as part of its pro bowl Celebration.
Internationally, the game consists of five players on each side on a field 50 yards long – plus 10 yards for each end zone – and 25 yards wide (about half the size of a traditional American football field). The offensive team has four downs to reach midfield for a first down. If they reach midfield, the team has four downs to score.
What's more, every offensive player is a capable receiver.
The fast nature has also caught up.
According to research from USA Football, between 2014 and 2022, participation rates for girls ages 6-12 increased by 178%. There were approximately 112,000 girls in this age range who played the game in 2021 and 2022.
Like Makayla Martinez, a 14-year-old wide receiver from Phoenix who stood out during USA Football/Los Angeles Rams' talent identification camp last summer. He started playing at the age of 5 after watching his cousins take to the field. However, he turned to soccer after still seeing no way to progress in flag football.
"My dad said, 'There's this girls' team that's starting. Do you want to try out?'" Martinez recalled. "I was like, 'No, not really.' Because I played only in the boys' team. But I gave it a chance. I went for it. I started focusing on flag football because I saw it was growing.”
Currently, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, and New York offer flag football as a girls sport at the high school level. More states are testing it, with New Jersey recently moving it from a club sport to the oversight of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association for the next two spring seasons.
The NFL's powerful publicity arm is also generating growth. The league has set up camps, clinics, circuits and even exhibitions.
The Clam family of Austin, Texas, used to be a baseball family who traveled to tournaments for their son. Now, Jason and Amberly Clam are fully invested in the world of flag football, even starting their own women's travel teams. His 19 year old daughter, Ashley, has long been a star in the sport – ever since she first stepped onto the field for the boys' team at the age of 7. A few years later, Ashley fully joined the girls' team and traveled everywhere.
This led them to launch Texas Fury, An all-girls flag football select travel team. At first, he had six girls. These days, the Fury has more than 60 players and seven different teams across various age groups.
Ashley Earns Flag Football Scholarship Keizer University in West Palm Beach, Florida, one of about two dozen NAIA schools that have the program. last May, Ottawa University in Kansas cements its dynasty by winning third place at the event outright NAIA women's flag football title over Thomas University (Georgia) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
"My daughter is getting a chance to play in college – it's one of those dreams come true," Jason Clam said. “And with this sport being included in the Olympics, the future is great.”
Ashley Clam was back home in Austin in October — lobbying for Texas high schools to add women's flag football as a varsity sport — when she woke up to a message from her parents. A simple screen shot: Flag football was officially for the 2028 LA Games. His sport, which was of such importance that he had to go into the army to compete in track and field, was gaining inclusion (along with cricket, baseball-softball, lacrosse, and squash).
"I was confident it would be successful," Ashley Clam said. “We can really show everyone that flag football should be out there – and flag football should be everywhere.”
There is already a strong rivalry between America and Mexico when it comes to women. Americans beat Mexico-led team Star QB Diana Flores During the International Federation of American Football's Americas continental flag football championship in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the summer. At the World Games a year earlier, Flores led his team to the gold medal.
Of course, it's still years away, but this could be a big showdown for the gold medal at the LA Games.
Roaster? That's still a long way off, but beginning next season, there will be officially USA Football sanctioned events, tournaments and combines to begin the selection process. it belongs to anyone Guess Who Makes the Team as a game Could begin to tempt athletes from other sports (e.g. imagine the speed of track stars). Sydney McLaughlin-Levron And sha'cary richardson ,
"The announcement (of flag football's inclusion in the Olympics) was rocket fuel to an already very rapid growth trajectory for the passion of girls and women who want to play football," said Scott Hallenbeck, CEO of Flag Football, Inc. usa football, said of a sport that is an invitational Olympic event for now but is already working to be added to the program for the 2032 Brisbane Games. "It's been an explosion of participation."
receiver madison fulford Discovered flag football while playing in an intramural league about two years ago. In no time, the Limestone University track standout used his speed and agility to make the national team, where he scored four TDs in the gold medal game against Mexico last summer.
Fulford balances her time between serving as an Air Force mental health counselor in San Antonio, as well as wearing the red, white and blue for the national team and running flag football. skill camp all For young women across the country.
Anything to inspire the next female flag football player.
"I tell them to just have fun," Fulford said. "Have fun with your mates, your sisters."