USA Football emphasizes the importance of football for all and actively supports and participates in the creation of pathways for more people to participate in the sport. In the coming months, USA Football will highlight and share the experiences of exceptional members of the football community who have expanded the sport’s scope through their play.
Ashlea Klam is a member of the 2023 U.S. Women’s Flag National Team that will compete in the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Americas Continental Flag Football Championship from July 5-7 in Charlotte, N.C. She represents a wave of new athletes capitalizing on flag football’s increasing accessibility and popularity.
When Klam first became interested in flag football, there weren’t many opportunities for girls her age to learn the sport and compete on organized teams. Fortunately, her family recognized her love for the game and built a pathway for her and others to compete at a high level.
“I started playing co-ed flag football when I was around seven years old,” Klam recalled. “At the time there were very few girls who played. The local league was mostly boys. I was playing baseball and basketball at the time, and I wanted to start playing flag because I enjoyed watching my older brother play it. I really loved the sport. When I was nine years old, I was asked to join a select coed team called the Steelers where I was the only girl. I had a blast playing with the team because the boys treated me as one of them. The same coaches – Coach Galan Manske and Coach David Lapping – later asked me to join their all-girls team for 13 and 14-year-olds when I was ten. I played with them for two seasons and then my parents started Texas Fury, and I have been playing for the Fury ever since.”
Since its inception, the all-girls Texas Fury flag football program has experienced significant growth, providing many athletes like Klam with opportunities to sharpen their skills alongside other competitive football players. The Texas Fury began with one six-girl team in its first season but recently had 90 girls attend a camp and 60 attend tryouts. The program will field six teams this year.
Klam first met members of the U.S. National Team staff in January of 2021. She eventually attended a USA Football Regional Camp in Houston and became determined to make the National Team. A little over a year later, Klam served as a co-captain on the Girls’ 17U National Team that faced squads from Canada and Japan in the inaugural Junior Flag International Cup. She transitioned to the adult level this spring, earning a spot on the U.S. Women’s Flag National Team.
Shortly after competing in the Americas Continental Flag Football Championship this July, Klam will continue her flag football career at Keiser University in Florida, where she earned a scholarship to play the sport she loves.
“If I was able to tell my seven-year-old self that I am going to play college flag football on a scholarship, my little self, even my parents when I was that age, would not believe me at all. It means everything to me,” said Klam. “I hope to see even more growth in this game as more states offer flag football at a sanctioned level. To see people take this sport seriously at the high school and college levels would mean so much to me and many other girls.”
Klam’s journey from competing on a team with six players to earning a college scholarship for flag football and playing on the U.S. National Team at the international level is proof of a developing pathway that provides athletes with opportunities to expand the scope of their skills and involvement.
“Flag football is no longer just a recreational sport for young athletes to play,” Klam said. “It's no longer just a complementary sport to make you better at other sports. Flag football offers so many opportunities that people do not see. I'm allowed to play in college on a scholarship for the sport that I love. In March, I traveled to North Carolina to try out for the U.S. Women's National Team to represent my country. In 2022, I was able to play in the Junior Flag International Cup representing the United States. It’s not just a recreational sport anymore. This sport gives so many opportunities to young female athletes who want to play football.”
While flag football has set down roots in many parts of the country, Klam recognizes that there are still girls fighting for the opportunity to play at the youth level and beyond. As someone who went through that process, she is uniquely qualified to offer words of encouragement.
“The best advice I would give the younger generation is to never give up,” Klam said. “I know that is such a cliché. I've been asked that question a lot, but I will always say that exact answer. There are people who will try to bring you down for playing this sport. My advice, especially to girls who want to play in a male dominated sport, is not to let them hold that power. Football can be our sport too, but people don't always see that. One day they will, but for now don't let doubters get in the way of you playing the sport you love.”