Football Fridays In Georgia: Georgia’s Fastest Growing High School Sport Takes Another Big Leap

Jon Nelson: Welcome to another round of the Football Fridays In Georgia podcast here at Georgia Public Broadcasting. Thanks for accessing us. However, you are doing so in video form, in audio form, large device or small could be the big six-inch HDMI cable that you plug into the side of the TV. So, you can see Hannah and me talking about everything going on here in the state of Georgia involving high school football. And in this one we’re talking high school football, but there’s a word in front of the word football that we’re putting in this particular time.

Hannah Goodin: My favorite word, girls. We are taking a deep dive today into the newest GHSA official and extremely, extremely popular sport of girls’ flag football. And we’ve got two guests on today to break a lot of this down. There are 222 teams participating and our TV ratings were off the charts for the championships last year. One of the girls’ flag football games is one of the most watched on our entire GPB Sports YouTube page. This sport is blowing up in Georgia. Jon and I am so excited to be breaking this down for our listeners.

Jon Nelson: So, for those of you that haven’t had the chance to watch it go to the GPB Sports YouTube channel and do a search for the West Forsyth – Hillgrove game, and that is the one.

That is one of the few is one of the most viewed clips that we have in our files on the GPB Sports YouTube channel. And it was funny when we started doing this couple a couple of seasons ago on showing the games on our air as a part of championship weekend, there was a big surprise at how receptive folks were about watching these games as the predecessor, the daily predecessor to the football games and on social media and on our Twitter and everything. It’s all blowing up. And the one quote that has always stuck with me is -that – this is the-this one particular Twitter user said that “this is the guilty pleasure. I didn’t know that I had until I started watching.” And I think that that’s key in all of this. Once you start watching, you’re bought in, and you are absolutely hooked.

Hannah Goodin: You’re hooked. And it is it is true across the entire state. We had the honor of airing the very first championships in 2020, and some of the clips were on SportsCenter Top 10 the very next day. There were two divisions. Then the sport became so popular. Now there are three divisions which we aired the three championship games in 2021. The future of the sport could be I talked to Ernie Yarborough, the assistant executive director of GHSA, and there could be four divisions just next season. So, the snowball is-is continuing down the hill.

Jon Nelson: Not a surprise when you have now 222 is the number that you gave right this year. Basically, that’s half of the schools in the GHSA. Wow. That are attaching themselves to flag football because it’s north of 400. I want to say it’s like 438 or something.

Hannah Goodin: You don’t know the official numbers.

Jon Nelson: 405 play football. And so, I’m trying.

Hannah Goodin: You don’t know the official number?

Jon Nelson: It’s 438, but I think 405 were attached to football in one way or another. And you’ve got half of that number going through a COVID year, coming out of a COVID year, and it’s basically doubled and doubled again. Yeah. To where you’re north of 200. So, you’ve got more than 50% of the participating members in the Georgia High School Association now attached to flag football. And literally, this is like trying to grab a comet by the tail and trying to figure out how we get to-to lock into it. So now it’s been really cool. Yeah.

Hannah Goodin: So, we’re going to break all that down with our guests today. But I want to get started with a quote from the West Forsyth, A.D., Brett Phipps. I talked to him about the Wolverine State Championship in the very first year in 2000 and why he thinks the sport has taken off. Here’s what he told me.

Brett Phipps, West Forsyth AD: We obviously live in a hotbed of football in the state of Georgia. And, you know, everyone, men and women enjoy the game. And so, I think the kids just saw this as a way to get involved. And then when we finally got to do that inaugural season for us when we were piloting it, the thing that I started noticing is how much every game the crowd got a little bigger. You know, the first couple games there was just some parents there. But by the end of the season, we actually had a really good crowd for the championship which we hosted here that night. And so many of the people that came said they couldn’t get over how fun it was. And I’ve kind of equated it to kind of like arena like football. It’s fast paced, lots of action, lots of scoring. And I just think I think it’s just a fun hour to sit and watch, you know, football, really.

Jon Nelson: And he’s not wrong. He’s absolutely not wrong with-with that. And I like the comparison to arena football because it’s fast. You’ve got to be paying attention. It’s constantly there and the action is nonstop, and you get to see a new round of stars that are attached to the sport. With West Forsyth winning and Calvary Day winning in 2020. In 2021, it was Southeast Bulloch, it was Dodge, and it was Hillgrove. And we’ve gotten to see rivalries actually start forming.

Hannah Goodin: Already in.

Jon Nelson: Their first just a couple of initial years, you’re starting to see rivalries show up in flag football. I think it’s really cool.

Hannah Goodin: Well, the reason I reached out to Brett was that was because we have a big announcement to make drum.

Jon Nelson: Drum Roll, hit it.

Hannah Goodin: We will be airing a full schedule of flag football this fall, live streaming starting with West Forsyth’s Clash of Champions. So, it’s a kickoff tournament involving six teams. On October 13th, there’ll be a 6:00 pm game, 7:00 game, 8:00 game and we are streaming the entire thing, and this is huge.

Jon Nelson: So, follow along if you’re not so far, download the GPB Sports app available for iOS and Android. So however, you are accessing your streaming these days October 13th and if I’m not mistaken, that’s a Thursday. So, Thursday night, October 13th, the clash of champions at West Forsyth. This is like the-the Daytona 500.

Hannah Goodin: For girls flag football.

Jon Nelson: Like girls’ flag football because you like to have the big race right at the beginning of the year. That’s what you’ve got with the Daytona 500. So, this is the Daytona 500 calling it right now. The Daytona 500 of girls’ flag football here in the state of Georgia. Schedule right now as we know it, 6:00, your lead off is Southeast Bulloch and Hillgrove, two defending champs going up against each other in game number one portal. And we’ll have some Portal assistance in discussing flag football and participation. Portal participation. Say that ten times.

Hannah Goodin Portal Participation.

Jon Nelson Thank you. We’ll have some Portal participation here on the podcast in just a little bit. Discussing Portal, the Portal Panthers who have made two championship game appearances, they’re going to be taking on Archer in the middle game. And at 8:00 West Forsyth, your hosts taking on Marietta. So, three great matchups Thursday night, October 13th on the GPB streaming platforms, you’re going to get The Cash of Champions, the Daytona 500 of girls flag football in the state of Georgia coming up in October. Very, very cool.

Hannah Goodin But we’re going to fool you, we’re going to treat this like a real broadcast. And it’s going to be we’re going to we’re going to give these girls what they deserve. The airtime of what they deserve.

Jon Nelson: It is going to be absolutely epic to see this in this format. And, you know, and Brett mentioned the crowd, and I want to see what the crowd’s going to be like, especially with everyone traveling from all these different locations.

Hannah Goodin: Yeah, coming up from the south as well as central.

Jon Nelson: East Central Georgia is going to be represented with two of the six teams in Southeast Bulloch and Portal. They may pool their resources to come up and to see the-the impact from East Central Georgia coming up for the clash of champions. I think that’s going to be great, obviously, with what we know from Cobb County and Forsyth County, they’re going to be coming in. So, I can’t wait to see what the crowds are going to be like on this Thursday night.

Hannah Goodin: And second part of our announcement following the clash of champions, we will be streaming a game of the week every Thursday on GPB Sports.

Jon Nelson: Very, very cool.

Hannah Goodin: It’s exciting, exciting.

Jon Nelson: Home for flag football here in the state of Georgia. It is GPB Sports and all of the GPB platforms. And just think about how big this has become. We’ve seen it grow here in the state of Georgia like doubled and doubled again in very short time. Alabama High School Association, they had their first ever state championships last year. The state of New York and New Jersey, they’re in the tri state. New Jersey had their state championships, and they played it at MetLife Stadium.

Hannah Goodin: Wow, how cool.

Jon Nelson: They had they had eight teams go into their particular championship round and then they whittled it down there in like I think it was like one day tournament for eight teams to start things off as a pilot program, playing it at MetLife Stadium, the home of the Giants and the Jets. You get that kind of experience. You come to downtown Atlanta, and you get to see it there with our friends at Georgia State Stadium as well, and Mercedes Benz and at Center Parc. But no, it’s fantastic to see all this stuff go down.

Hannah Goodin: All right. Well, let’s get to our guests today because they have a plethora of knowledge on all things girls flag football. And our first one helped put the sports on the map in Georgia. That’s the District Athletic Director for Cherokee County Schools, Tonya Sebring. We’ll bring her in. Tonya, thank you so much for joining us today. Now, I know the Atlanta Falcons played a huge role in getting girls flag football up and running. What all did they do and how did you get involved?

Tonya Sebring, District AD Cherokee Co. Schools: Well, yes, the Atlanta Falcons have been a huge partner in getting this thing up and going. I actually met Amanda Dunkel who is in charge of community relations and getting this thing off the ground as a part of Arthur Blank’s vision. She introduced herself and presented at one of our what we call Metro Region athletics directors meetings, which is basically a meeting of all the athletic directors, district athletic directors in metro area. And she pitched Arthur Blake’s vision that, hey, we want to start flag football. We think there is a need here or a want here, and we’re going to fully fund it. We just need you to apply for the grant. And I went back to my superintendent and my school operations chief and said, you know, listen, this is at no cost to us, and this is another opportunity for our kids. I think we need to take advantage of it. And from there, we applied for the grant, the Atlanta Falcons, they were wonderful. They helped us along the way from anywhere from purchasing equipment and uniforms to offering clinics. They’ve just been a true partner in this growing sport, for sure.

Jon Nelson: What’s it been like to see it grow practically exponentially here in the state of Georgia over the last handful of years?

Tonya Sebring, District AD Cherokee Co. Schools: Oh, it’s been amazing. And I’ve always been a proponent of opportunity for all athletes. But just to see, give our girls an opportunity to play flag football is just amazing. And, you know, it’s one of those things that until you try it, you just didn’t know if there was going to be that interest there. But I can tell you, in our pilot program, we had six schools that participated in all. Six of our high schools participated. And well, we had an interest meeting. And just from that pilot year, we knew that this thing was going to grow because from the interest meeting, we had at one high school, over 100 kids show up, they had to split the try out. So that was really cool. And then once the pilot program got off the ground and the word got out, there was, you know, buzz around the surrounding districts, like, why aren’t we doing that? You know, why can Cherokee girls play football? We can’t play football. So, it’s just been really cool to watch it all unfold and to really watch the sport grow. You know, from the first championship game to this past, when you can just see the skill level, just continue to get more and more sophisticated because the girls are more familiar with the sport.

Hannah Goodin: I know adding another official GHSA sport was complicated enough trying to squeeze that in and in October when there’s so many other things going on, but for schools, it’s difficult as well, right? So, you’re having a varsity team and now some schools have so much interest, they need a J.V. team. How is all of this working?

Tonya Sebring, District AD Cherokee Co. Schools: So that’s a funny story. We actually had a principal that when we pitched this to our schools, we had a principal who was a little bit hesitant, not based on the fact that he didn’t want to support the girls or the activity, but just where are we going to fit this in our schedule? And if it’s just going to be a few girls and, you know, we’re adding another activity to-to potentially have to, you know, finance in the future. And I’m just not sure this thing is going to work. It’s not hard. He was kind of kicking and screaming. I drug him into the pilot program. And two months later, you know, the pilot program comes to an end. He calls me up on the phone. He says, Coach Sebring, that’s how he knew me. Because they bring, we got to we got add a JV program. We’ve got too many girls. We’re cutting kids we don’t need to be cutting kids on this. So, it was really it was an “aha” moment for him that it was a pretty special moment for me.

Jon Nelson: When you get to see all this stuff progress, I know that when we’re discussing high school football on the boys’ side, we’re looking at regions and we’re looking at traditional rivalries and things like that. It’s a little different, the layout than it is for flag football, just for-for folks that might sit there and look at teams that aren’t necessarily familiar to them in the high school football regions set up describe the areas set up and how all that comes together.

Tonya Sebring, District AD Cherokee Co. Schools: Right. So, I think eventually we will get to regions, but the area set up is actually for growing sports or sports that don’t have full participation in order to create regions. So, a lot of times you’ll have to create an area that might combine regions or combine specific areas based on travel. And I’ll give you an example. Our county schools are an area. So, we’ve also picked up Blessed Trinity and Roswell and Fellowship Christian. Fellowship Christian would not even be in our classification. Exactly. But because they are geographically removed, they have moved them into our area for our competition.

Jon Nelson: What’s it like to have all of these different aha moments as-as the sport continues to grow? You mentioned that Aha moment locally, but what’s it like to see all of these aha moments? And it’s not just about the sport and what it’s able to do, but you’re talking about all of the other redeeming qualities that you have off the field that are there on the field as well. What’s it like to see all of these other things happening that are a series of aha moments with this sport?

Tonya Sebring, District AD Cherokee Co. Schools: Well, I’ll tell you, it’s amazing. And what the-the main thing that I have seen just in the three short years that I’ve been involved with flag football in our district, with our schools, is number one, flag football offers-offers an opportunity for maybe somebody who didn’t have a fit somewhere else, maybe they weren’t a good softball player, or they weren’t a good volleyball player. The sport is so new that, you know, they have athletic ability, or they have that interest in football, that there’s really a combination of kids that come out for this. And it offers, you know, we’re in this life now. Of, you start playing volleyball at age nine and you play volleyball with the same group of girls all through high school. But this is a different aha moment. You know, you’re joining a different team and with different obviously the same goal is to, you know, when are competing, but it’s really good to watch the sport grow, but also to watch kids come together and become multi-sport athletes that haven’t even thought about doing that. And the second part of that question would be off the field. You know, our first year, Sequoyah High School did a have a great story that I shared at a clinic that I visited for the Falcons. And that was they enjoyed the game of flag football so much. They had a manager who was with the Goshen Valley Boys Ranch, which is for foster kids. He was he was their manager. And they kind of took him under their wing. And come Christmas and Thanksgiving, they went out to that Goshen Valley Boys Ranch and that Sequoia softball team excuse me, flag football team had a day of flag football teaching those that group of boys how to play flag football. And they had a great co-ed game, and it was just a really good story, bringing everybody together and community.

Hannah Goodin: This is bigger than just Georgia, right? This is this is going nationwide. And you’ve actually pitched to another professional team to get things going in that in another state, correct?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: