Mouth guards, jerseys, athletic shorts and cleats with a touch of pink — flag football isn’t just for the boys anymore.
Nine-year-olds Bailey Saslow and Bianca Gruber and 11-year-old Chloe Delisle tried ballet and gymnastics, but those activities just didn’t pique their interests.
Flag football did.
The girls have known each other for years through school and other activities. But, now, they bond over touchdowns and first downs. This is Bailey’s, and Bianca’s second year playing flag football for the Suncoast Sports Club. It’s Chloe’s first year. The girls have come to love the game, but Bianca remembers not being completely sold on the idea of playing at first because it was such a boy-dominated sport.
“My mom signed me up … I didn’t want to be the only girl,” recalls Bianca. “But, then, Bailey signed up.”
Suncoast added the NFL Flag Football program in 2003. The sport was immediately a big hit among the boys. But it became so popular that parents inquired about signing up their daughters, as well. Suncoast creator Stephen Weeks was happy to let girls in on the fun the following season. According to Weeks, Suncoast is the only NFL Flag league in Sarasota that allows girls to play.
“It is important that girls be allowed to participate with boys in sports at Suncoast so that all can feel equal, and that they can better appreciate the sport of football and learn good sportsmanship at the same time,” says Weeks.
Bailey and Bianca play for the Lions, a team that happens to be coached by Bailey’s dad, David, and includes her older brother, Nick. Chloe is the only girl on the Buccaneers.
“Bianca is the Energizer Bunny,” says Bianca’s mother, Georgia Gruber, of her daughter’s energy level.
Though they may have come into the sport without knowing the rules or the game or being well versed in the football jargon, they have caught on quickly. The girls now talk about the sport with ease, and this pleases not only themselves but their parents, as well.
“I think it is cool when girls know about football,” said Laurie Saslow who encouraged her daughter to join last season. Saslow’s other goal for her daughter was for her to realize that she can compete with anyone.
“It can start with something as simple as being out on a football field,” she says.