No flag on this play: AIA-sanctioned girls flag football debuts at Nike Kickoff Classic

Flag football made its debut as an AIA-sanctioned sport Tuesday. Among the 57 schools in Arizona to offer it is Mountain View High School, which celebrated its win against Mountain Pointe. (Photo by William Wilson/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – As the blazing sun beamed down on the turf, high school girls with eye black smeared on their faces took the field at Mountain View High School following a coin toss from Arizona Cardinals star Kyler Murray that ushered in the inaugural season opener of flag football as an Arizona Interscholastic Association-sanctioned sport.

Mountain View and Mountain Pointe participated in flag football in the past as a club sport, but Tuesday night’s Nike Kickoff Classic was different – this time, there is a state championship up for grabs.

Flag football becoming a sanctioned sport in Arizona is just one step in the right direction for the future of women’s sports. There are currently 57 schools in the state offering flag football as a sanctioned sport, and Mountain View coach Jesus Arzaga believes that number will double by next season.

Arzaga was part of the committee that helped sanction flag football for the state. After his team won the Mesa city championship last year, his team is ready to compete again with more at stake.

“Being around these girls, they’re different,” Arzaga said. “It’s a different competition, it’s a different will to want to win and compete.”

Although flag football is different from tackle football, the aggressiveness and physicality displayed throughout Tuesday’s game underscored the increased competitiveness this season. With the score close in the fourth quarter and emotions running high, a scuffle broke out between two players after a flag was pulled. Both players were ejected from the game.

Shortly after the fight, the Toros won 12-7 on a game-winning touchdown after a penalty was called on the Pride for “pulling the flag in an unsportsmanlike way.”

Nicole Bidwill, the vice president of the Cardinals and the sister of Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill, was in attendance and said her favorite part of the increased awareness surrounding flag football is seeing the athletes excited to be recognized and new opportunities for women to play football.

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“You (women) can do anything that you set your mind to,” Bidwill said. “This is a really fun sport and you can find a way to play it and you should.”

The future of flag football looks bright, and Mountain Pointe coach Sergio Ramirez is optimistic that it will become an Olympic sport by 2028.

“These girls are going to have the opportunity to get scholarships,” Ramirez said. “Play in college and then ultimately win a gold medal. That’s huge for this particular sport and it’s huge for these girls’ opportunities.”

Ramirez said three seniors from last season received college offers to play – and one former player is currently playing in college now. Next up could be Mountain Pointe freshman standout Amaya Moreno, who showcased her talents throughout the game at quarterback. She will also play quarterback for the freshman football team.

Between practices and games for both teams, Moreno knows she will face adversity and her mindset will be key to successful seasons. The freshman phenom has caught the attention of many with her abilities at only 14 years old, but her motivation to play stems from wanting to be an inspiration to younger girls who want to play football.

“Girls are gonna have the opportunity to take it to the next level,” Moreno said. “I want to be there and be someone to look up to, like a role model. And have a good character so girls that are younger continue to take the legacy and continue to break barriers in the game of football as a female.

“The game is bigger than me now. I just got to push through it and break barriers in both flag and tackle with my team.”

Sabrina McClain(she/her/hers)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Sabrina McClain expects to graduate in December 2023 with a master’s degree in sports journalism.

Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

William Wilson expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Wilson has worked with companies such as Nike, William Morris Endeavor, Ballislife and more.