Flag football: A road to nowhere

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Photo credit: Jian Bautista

Flag football was introduced to the Anchorage School District in 2006 and has quickly become the most popular female sport in Alaska. In 2016-2017, flag football took the lead with 482 female participants. Taking second and third was volleyball with 378 and soccer with 374 players.

In the U.S., there are only six states, including Alaska, that offer flag football. The other states include California, District of Columbia, Florida, Michigan and Nevada. With flag football being added to more high schools, it is questioned what happens to players when high school ends.

Vanessa Tufaga, biology major, played four years of competitive flag football for Dimond High School with three years on varsity. Her positions were running back, offense and outside linebacker on defense.

“A lot of people write off flag as a pansy sport, but it can get physical too. It’s clearly not a complete replica of football where you tackle, but you’re still bumping and pushing with no gear. That’s got to count for something. So that considered, I really was attracted to the physicality of it,” Tufaga said.

Tufaga has been interested in football since the age of five and was heavily influenced by her family.

“My grandpa played at a junior college in California, my dad played football at Weber State University and all my uncles played at the collegiate level. Football is practically embedded in my family, so it was a given that my dad would encourage my brothers to try it out,” Tufaga said. “But for me, I think my dad always kind of knew I had a competitive streak to be just as good as my brothers in sports, so when I got older he really capitalized on my desire and self-motivation to play.”

Not only did her father, grandpa and uncles further their football career after high school, but also her brothers.

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“My older brother plays for Lindenwood University in Belleville, Illinois and my other brother plays for Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington,” Tufaga said. “I think I was bummed that something I was good at was stopping after high school, but realistically I knew I couldn’t waste my time wishing and hoping for a scholarship that would never come.”

Tufaga decided to continue playing flag football knowing that there would be no collegiate offers because she enjoyed the environment and competitiveness of the game.

“As much as I love and miss flag football, I’ve always known that it’s not my end game. I was prepared to move forward without it, so I am thankful for what it has taught me, it’s all nostalgic now,” Tufaga said.

Some colleges out of state have added co-ed flag football into their intramural sports. Kathleen Navarre, head coach for Dimond High School’s flag football team, believes adding flag football to intramural sports in universities can have a positive impact.

“The fact that we have flag football in our state it helps kids going into college break the ice and get involved with students at their university so I would say to definitely add that in intramural sports,” Navarre said.

Navarre’s Dimond flag football team recently won championships against West High School. She has been coaching for 12 seasons.

“I’m glad to see it growing, I think its been a real positive thing for Dimond High School and around Anchorage schools. It would be great if more states would get into it and if colleges also got it going,” Navarre said.

Flag football started in Anchorage to meet Title IX obligations, and Navarre thinks that universities should follow in the same footsteps.

“The university has to be Title IX compliant and rather than cut a sport, because a lot of universities are already to the minimum and have cut wrestling because it wasn’t Title IX compliant, so they had to take it out,” Navarre said. “Flag football is a pretty inexpensive sport to start up, so rather than a university looking to cut something, it might be something they look into adding.”

Around the time flag football was gaining momentum, UAA added flag football to their intramural sports to meet the growing demand.

“Our attempt was to see if we could follow up on that by creating a program where kids can continue to play if they choose to, since we didn’t have the facilities on campus, we hooked it to the Dome sports and fielded a team in their league,” Alan Piccard, assistant director of recreation sports at UAA, said.

To participate in the flag football league at The Dome, it cost about $1,700 per team Piccard said. Students were charged $20 each to go towards the $1700 and the rest of the fees were covered by UAA.

UAA’s flag football team lasted for four semesters, but had trouble gaining enough students to continue to play.

“[The Dome] raised the prices, the deciding factors was: one, the low participation numbers and two, is they jacked the rates the third year we were going to attempt to do it,” Piccard said. “We assumed that when we ran it, we would get 20 through 30 people and would have to turn people away, when we barely had enough to put on a team.”

The UAA recreation department is willing to start flag football again if there were a high demand of participants, despite the failed program in the past.

“If you came up with that amount of people, we would make something happen, were not opposed to trying it again if it works,” Piccard said. “The big thing on this is that we are going to need the people who are going to want to participate and guarantee that they’re going to participate.”