In 2018, the New York Times published an article titled “The Future of Football Has Flags.” In fact, flag football is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States, and girls are joining in on the fun, too. “Increasing female participation in flag football has been a top priority for NFL FLAG,” said Executive Director of NFL FLAG Izell Reese. “We are committed to creating more opportunities for girls flag football at the youth, high school, and collegiate levels and, thanks to support from the NFL and partnerships with the NJCAA and NAIA, we’ve been able to make incredible progress in our Females in Flag initiative.”
Every Kid Sports partnered with NFL Flag this year to make the sport more accessible to kids from income-restricted families, and through that partnership, we met Matt Rosenthal, commissioner of the Montgomery, NJ flag football league. Flag football has always been a family affair for the Rosenthal family, and Matt and his daughter, Ally, worked together to change the perception around the sport and recruit more girls to participate in their local league.
“From him, I learned to prioritize player development and the love of the game over winning.”
Ally, now a fourth year student at Georgia Institute of Technology, started her journey in the sport at a young age. “I was used to watching my older brother play flag football, but when I turned nine I asked to play, too. My dad was coaching at the time, and he was all for it. But I was also aware that I was being judged by parents and the other players. I heard comments from parents like ‘Oh, she’s so cute.’ That was frustrating to me because I loved to run, I was competitive, and being cute was not what this was about. I was also aware that some of the boys didn’t want to direct plays toward me, but those challenges only made me stronger.”
Eventually, Ally and her dad recruited enough girls to form an all-girls team. Their team would play against co-ed and male teams, and again Ally was aware that her team was looked upon as a weaker team. “I could tell that the boys didn’t feel they need to cover us as much; but we scored on them and although we didn’t win a lot, we certainly didn’t make it easy on them.”
Looking back, she feels that her role in destigmatizing gender roles was a huge accomplishment, and she learned a lot from her dad along the way. My dad is known as Coach Matt and is looked upon as a mentor by a lot of the kids in our community. He is always encouraging and believes that everyone should get a chance to play and a chance to touch the ball. That’s how a person develops an appreciation for the game. From him, I learned to prioritize player development and the love of the game over winning.”
Ally’s leadership in the sport continued as she grew older; she became the first female referee in Montgomery, and is now captain of her sorority’s intramural flag league. “My teammates are very athletic but they didn’t necessarily come from a football background, so I enjoy teaching them about game play. A lot of girls are exposed to football through Powder Puff leagues in high school, and it’s a shame that it’s not evolved into an actual competitive sport by most high schools. I’m excited to see more progress in that area.”
Ally’s experience in a male-dominated sport, and her ability to help change the culture around that sport became the theme of her college essay. “Learning to overcome judgements, and sharing the accomplishment of destigmatizing the sport with my dad, was a big part of my childhood and very meaningful. I’m proud to have made an impact and I’m stoked to see more girls play football!”
Well played, Ally!
– Every Kid Sports