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Gwinnett schools to start girls flag football program

Gwinnett County high school girls, are you ready for some football?

School district officials believe the answer is yes.

Gwinnett County Public Schools have partnered with the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation to bring girls flag football teams to all 20 Gwinnett high schools.

“The state of Georgia has some of the larger gaps in male versus female athletics,” said Chris Millman, director of community relations for the Atlanta Falcons. “Piloting the program is a pretty significant investment and we’re determined to do it right.”

Girls in this NFL camp are playing flag football. In a program starting this fall, all 20 Gwinnett County public high schools will have girls flag football teams that will compete against each other in a five-game series. Courtesy of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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The program is the newest for the charity, which has as a part of its mission innovative approaches to increase time kids spend in physical activity. The foundation looks for ways to change the lives of children who traditionally are most likely to miss out or opt out of physical activity.

Various national reports have highlighted the disparity in physical activity between boys and girls. According to the Georgia Department of Education 2014-2015 Annual Fitness Assessment, a smaller percentage of girls than boys reach a “healthy fitness zone.” That means most girls in Georgia have a lower degree of protection than boys against diseases that can result from sedentary living .

To help turn those numbers around, the Blank Foundation approached the Georgia High School Association to sanction girls flag football in the state. Although the officials were receptive to the idea, their timeline wasn’t as aggressive as the foundation wanted.

So it approached the largest school district in the state. After some discussion among administrators and the approval of the superintendent and school board, the program will begin in October.

Although Gwinnett has added programs such as slow-pitch softball and day-long cheer and dance events, this is perhaps the largest-scale approach to offering more opportunities for physical activity for girls.

“Our main focus is an attempt to increase the opportunities for female students,” said Jon Weyher, Gwinnett Schools director of athletics, student activities and community schools.

Girls in this NFL camp are playing flag football. In a program starting this fall, all 20 Gwinnett County public high schools will have girls flag football teams that will compete against each other in a five-game series. Courtesy of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

An informal poll indicated enough interest to get the teams in place, said Weyher.

The first practice is set for Oct. 1 with a scrimmage Oct. 15, the first game on Oct. 22 and a championship game Dec. 8.

And although it will take place during the same season as boys’ football, Millman said it’s different enough to garner interest.

“We haven’t worked out all the details, but we want to make it a fun experience for the spectators as well as the players,” said Millman.

There are no pads, helmets or tackling; in fact, the teams look more like they’re playing soccer.

The sponsors hope the excitement spreads and in five years would like to see all 159 counties in the state with girls flag football teams.

“This is a real sport,” said Millman. “There are uniforms, coaches, officials … We want to brag about the program and maybe spread it across the country.”

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