Past the Endzone: Women Leaders Powering Their Communities Through Football

By Gehrig Parker | Posted 3/30/2021

March not only marks the arrival of spring, but a time to celebrate and recognize women for all their ground-breaking achievements and contributions to our world. In celebration of Women’s History Month, USA Football is proud to highlight and recognize the women shaping the future of football and inspiring the next generation of kids who love to play America’s favorite sport.

This week, we feature two league and community leaders, who both also serve on one of USA Football’s three Advisory Councils.

Jamal Bacon

Youth Coach & Flag Director from Williamsville Jr. Football and Cheerleading (N.Y.)

Chair, USA Football’s Coach Advisory Council

How’d you get involved in youth football?

My oldest son’s first year in the league was in 2016, and I’d consider myself an overly concerned parent, so initially I was skeptical of letting him play. What that led to was me asking questions to gain further insight into the potential risks and safety protocols. From there, I became a volunteer, which helped me fall in the love with the game. As our league grew, so did my responsibilities within the league. In 2018 I joined the board of directors, and then in 2019 I was named the flag director and have run our league’s flag program ever since.

Summarize your responsibilities on day-to-day basis?

It’s constantly changing as our league evolves. My primary goal is to make sure things are safe, fun, and inclusive for all our athletes. Our program is youth ages 5 -14, and at this age football should be based on safety, having fun and learning to love the game in a supportive, inclusive environment. For some children this is the only outlet for physical activity or socialization that they have. I also do a lot of work in setting up community partnerships for the league and serve as the liaison to our local school districts.

What advice do you have for women who are looking to get involved with their local program and in their community?

Don't be afraid to take risks and ask questions. Our league is 100 percent run by volunteers, so you should never underestimate what you can bring to the table and asking questions helps you identify opportunities to become involved. Even if there’s not an official opening within the organization, help is always needed, and you’ll likely find it a great way to network and meet more people in your community.

Football especially has long been a male-dominated industry, and I know I have overcome many obstacles for being a female. Don’t let push back deter you. Be persistent. The bottom line is to have integrity and to advocate for yourself and for fairness, being sure to always support one another because at the end of the day, everything is about the kids and being sure to give them an experience that is fun and helps them grow.

Lastly, don’t underestimate the power your presence may have. I say this as I help in getting girls involved in our flag program having two daughters of my own. It’s important to have female representation among coaches and league administrators. I love seeing the girls who play in our league, but I strongly believe there would be more girls playing if there were more female coaches and league representatives by providing visual representation, leading by example and encouraging them to play.

As a mom, what is your advice for parents who are raising girls?

I have two sisters, one who’s a mechanical engineer, the other a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran. Both of them have worked in career fields which tend to be predominately sought after by men. I always played sports and wasn’t hesitant about taking a leadership role in football. We did not hesitate to pursue opportunities in these fields because we were encouraged as kids by our parents to follow our passions. It’s so important that your daughter’s goals are encouraged and supported. And while you support their dreams and accomplishments, it’s equally important to teach them to support the dreams and accomplishments of their friends. When I look at everything going on in our world, I think we could all better develop a better balance between grit and grace, pushing through the obstacles but also picking each other up when we get knocked down.

What’s your favorite part of your role?

I love seeing the progress of the kids as they move through the program. My son was 7 when he first started playing and seeing him now at 12, the growth I’ve seen firsthand both on and off the field has been an absolute joy to experience. And now as a coach, I’m grateful for the opportunity to coach girls and help them pursue their goals. It’s very inspiring to witness.

Toi Debose, Athletic Director, Fort Bend Youth Football League (Texas)

Member, USA Football League Leadership Advisory Council

How’d you get involved in youth football?

I have three sons and they all played in the league starting in 2008. I first volunteered as the registrar for the franchise my boys played for, which then led to me becoming that same franchise’s athletic director. Through that role, I was able to meet coaches and league administrators and eventually moved up to secretary for the league at large. Then in 2018, I was named the league’s athletic director, and while my boys have aged out of the program and play in high school, I’m still here and loving it.

Summarize your responsibilities on day-to-day basis?

There’s really no offseason for us. We’re always looking to improve our league’s operations and offerings, preparing for the season ahead utilizing the lessons learned from the season we just had. Currently, we have 13 franchises within the league with each franchise having five levels of football and cheer. Everything I do serves to enhance the franchises and service the needs of parents, helping our league continue to grow.

What advice do you have for women who are looking to get involved with their local program and in their community?

If it’s something you want to do, you should do it and make sure you’re all in. You can’t be hesitant because that creates skepticism of those around you. If kids are your passion, it’s a very rewarding experience. The other day I went to a track & field meet at our high school, and we’re talking about these kids who were 6 years old what seems like yesterday and now they’re high school seniors. If you want to be part of that journey and that growth, then go all in and do it.

Early on, there may be times you get pushback because you’re the outsider when you first start, but don’t let that knock you off course. You’re not going to know everything and that’s okay. I’ve been involved with youth football for 13 years, but I still maintain that I don’t know everything and am always open to new ideas and suggestions if it’s going to benefit the kids and the league. As long as you remain genuine and authentic and show others that you’re there for the same reason they are, it all takes care of itself.

What is your advice to girls who want to get involved in football?

There’s a place for everyone. We have female coaches in our league and girls who play. My oldest is a girl who grew up around the game, playing with her brothers and going to workouts with them. She’s now at Florida State working in operations and player development. If a parent is unsure about their daughter playing, but she wants to try it out, she should be encouraged and allowed to do so. You never know what can come from it, especially down the line. In my experience I’ve seen great things happen to those who’ve taken a risk and gone outside their comfort zone. At the end of the day, I truly believe that there’s a place for everybody in sport.

What’s your favorite part of your role?

Seeing the kids grow through the program and beyond. It may sound funny, but I’ll be at the grocery store or at a school function and I’ll have kids come up me to talk about life, their grades and where they’re at. For all the kids we have who go on to play football in high school, we have others who don’t continue playing and I’m still cheering them on academically and in life. We have kids who’ve gone on to be everything from a teacher to playing in the NFL. Just seeing them grow from the age of 6 and crying because they lost a tooth and think they look funny to watching them earn scholarships and go to college, it’s great to play a part in helping them become a great young people and know the impact they’ll someday have.

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