Girls’ flag football is exploding in popularity across the United States. USA Football is proud to work alongside organizations pushing to broaden the game’s horizons and provide more pathways for people to engage with the sport. One collaboration this summer led to the creation of a new summer league in Chicago.
USA Football partnered with the Chicago Public League (CPL) to host the first-ever High School Girls Flag Football Summer League, powered by Wintrust. CPL is the interscholastic athletic competition arm of Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
“We’re so excited to support the young ladies that are playing and the coaches that are supporting them as they continue to refine their skills in flag football,” said U.S. Women’s Tackle National Team alumna and Wintrust employee Elizabeth Okey, who sits on USA Football’s Board of Directors and Girls’ Football Advisory Council. “I can remember teaching girls’ flag football 16 years ago at a Chicago Park District, and the sport has come far.”
“We wanted to pilot the program, and that meant finding various ways to get the girls involved and entertain them over the summer,” said Juliana Zavala, Senior Manager of Flag Football and Elementary Sports at CPS. “I love the diversity. I love that the girls are coming in new to start something that they’ve never had before. They’re taking risks. It’s giving the girls the confidence and discipline to do anything in their future.”
The summer league served more than 200 student-athletes and helped them prepare for the fall flag football season. The championship games were held at historic Winnemac Stadium on July 27, and the winners were presented with a plaque.
“Thank you for seeing our potential,” said CPL Summer League participant Jada N. “Thank you for making girls’ flag football possible, and thank you for helping it evolve.”
Girls attending the championship game had the chance to meet and hear from several female football players, including Okey (2013 National Team) and Darcy Leslie (2022), who are gold medalists and world champions from USA Football’s U.S. Women’s Tackle National Team program.
“Giving back to the community is vital for women’s sports,” said Okey. “Every woman that has ever played a sport knows that we cannot advance without more supporters, advocates and allies.”
In 2021, The Chicago Bears, USA Football, Nike and the CPL partnered to start the first-ever high-school flag football league in the state of Illinois. Many of the participants from the summer league will have an opportunity to play again as the league kicks off its third season with more than 100 teams across CPS and the surrounding suburbs.
“Thank you. I loved it,” said CPL Summer League participant Abigail P. “I really did, and I’m excited for the fall season to start as well.”
“It means a lot to have the support of USA Football,” said Okey. “As the sport continues to grow and boom in our communities, we need the structure of the sport’s governing body to make it sustainable.”
Seven states plus Southern California sanction girls’ flag football as a varsity sport, and NFL teams in states that don’t sanction girls’ flag football, such as the Bears, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers, are supporting pilot leagues to position the game as a future varsity sport.
“I’m really happy that we have it [flag football] here in the city of Chicago and Illinois,” said Zavala. “It’s here to expand and hopefully become a sanctioned sport.”