Photo: Courtesy of Christian Taylor
In its inaugural season, the Williamson County Flag Football League has garnered local and statewide attention for its dedication to growing the sport of football and making it inclusive for everyone.
The Tennessee Titans, who have supported this since before it started, will be hosting a tournament at Nissan Stadium on May 7 where a winner will be crowned.
The league is currently a club sport but the league leaders are pushing for it to become a sanctioned TSSAA sport.
Titans Director of Marketing – Youth & Community Engagement Josh Corey has experience helping develop a girl’s flag football league from a club sport to a state recognized high school program from his time as a coach and administrator at Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Florida.
“It was something that I thought was a great opportunity for us here in Tennessee,” Corey shares with The Sports Credential. “It took a little while to lay the ground work, but we’ve received a tremendous response from school districts that we’ve talked to, the TSSAA and a lot of different partners who would’ve made this come to fruition.”
Ravenwood High School Girls Flag Football vs. Nolensville High School. Photo: Courtesy of Christian Taylor
A little over a year ago, Corey spoke with Williamson County School System Athletic Directory Darrin Joines to try and start this league which the Titans would back. The support from the community and high school football programs was a huge part of making it a reality.
“The coaches I talked to were extremely excited about the potential for doing this,” Corey notes. “It was about a year ago when we planned it out. We knew it would take a little bit of time to do it right… And here we are now.”
The current schools fielding teams in the league are Ravenwood, Summit, Fairview, Independence, Nolensville, Brentwood, Centennial, Page and Franklin. To prove how serious this league is, all teams are being coached by a football head coach, former head coach or assistant coach, meaning these girls are be learning real plays from coaches with decades of experience.
Both the Titans and the NFL are working together to promote safe and fun youth football for both boys and girls. Currently Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Alaska and Nevada are the only states that have sanctioned high school girls flag football programs. However, between the reaction from the Williamson County community, coaches and the support from the Titans, Tennessee could be next in line.
“[It’s amazing to] have the opportunity to be a part of something on the ground level and know tha,t if it goes well and people get interested in it, it could be the next TSSAA sport,” Ravenwood High School football head coach Will Hester explains. “The idea of getting to do something that nobody has done at the high school level in Tennessee, getting a chance to coach the girls, and getting to coach some of those ladies before they leave and go off to their college sports was very intriguing to me.”
Ravenwood High School head football coach and girls flag football coach Will Hester. Photo: Christian Taylor
During Hester’s first three years in Middile Tennessee, Ravenwood won three region championships, one State Runner-up, and one State Championship, and amassed a record of 38-4 over that period. He later left Ravenwood for Nolensville High School which only had freshmen and sophomores who competed at the 4A level. In their second year with only freshman, sophomores and juniors, they became the first school in Tennessee history to qualify for and win a playoff game without a senior in the school.
Hester returned to Ravenwood in December of 2020 after spending three seasons with Florence High School in Alabama, leading the team to two playoff appearances and one quarter finals appearance.
The flag football league was attractive to so many young female student-athletes that it surpassed Hester’s expectations. So many different athletes and non-athletes were eager to jump at this new opportunity because of their overall love for football.
“There’s been a lot of interest in the community and a lot of media coverage of it,” Hester adds. “It’s hitting the girls that play other sports, but it’s also giving some female athletes that haven’t played anything else the chance to get involved in another sport. There’s also some girls who aren’t involved in athletics at all, but it gives them an option to try something.”
As a football lover himself, Hester enjoys coaching football to anyone and everyone, and loves coaching a fresh set of athletes who’ve never played before.
Pictured: Ravenwood High School and Franklin High School Flag Football Players with referees pre-game. Photo: Christian Taylor
“It’s been reinvigorating for me,” Hester shares. “Most of the guys I coach already have a preconceived notion of what football should be, what they’ve learned or what they’ve been taught over the years. These girls are kind of starting fresh, so we’re getting to coach football in its simplest and most rudimentary form. That’s been fun for me to try and teach the game to someone who may not know much about the game.
“A lot of these girls have very high athletic IQs. We relate flag football defense to defense in soccer where the girls are used to marking up other girls and playing zones.”
After May 7’s tournament at Nissan Stadium, the next step is to continue to grow by getting more schools, coaches and girls involved–ultimately creating a bigger demand for the sport. The goal being to hopefully get the sport sanctioned by the TSSAA and spread to Davidson County as soon as spring of 2023.
“We have met with Mark North, the District Athletic Director for Metro schools. Logically our next step is to try to get Davidson County on board,” Corey sums. “We’re talking about adding 15 schools with [Metro schools] in 2023, and we’re open to expanding out to Sumner County and Rutherford County, as well as some of our surrounding Nashville footprint.”