At Issue: Flag football coaches say sport is on the verge of hitting big-time status

North Oconee wide receiver Grace Maddox (32) has her flag pulled by SE Bulloch defensive back Ava King (10) during the Girl’s Flag Football A-4A GHSA State Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Monday, December. 11, 2023, in Atlanta. SE Bulloch won 14-0. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

North Oconee wide receiver Grace Maddox (32) has her flag pulled by SE Bulloch defensive back Ava King (10) during the Girl’s Flag Football A-4A GHSA State Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Monday, December. 11, 2023, in Atlanta. SE Bulloch won 14-0. (Jason Getz /

Flag football’s unprecedented rise as a sanctioned GHSA sport brings forth the question: What is the ceiling for the sport in the state?

In 2020, when the sport was sanctioned by the GHSA, there were two divisions – 1A-5A and 6A-7A. In 2021, the GHSA expanded the sport to three classes – 1A-4A, 5A-6A and 7A. More than 270 schools are competing, and events throughout the state are highlighting the top players.

The goal for many: Colleges offering partial scholarships for flag football.

The Corky Kell + Dave Hunter Classic, one of the largest high school football kickoff events in the country, added flag football to its 7-on-7 lineup and hosted a tournament at West Forsyth on Thursday. Another Classic event will be held in October.

Three high school coaches who have been instrumental in the sport’s development were asked about the future of the sport.

Jake Burgdorf coaches the flag football team at McEachern and also is the executive director of the Georgia Flag Football Coaches Association. He has been a mainstay helping the sport grow.

Newton coach Steven Gunn has spent his entire life around the game of football and hopes he one day can coach his 3-year-old daughter.

Chattahoochee’s Michael Depa has spent time learning the game after years of being around traditional football. He believes the sky is the limit for participation.

Jake Burgdorf, McEachern

“In my opinion, we are really close to flag football taking over as a favorite of the majority of female sports. Throughout the state, with it growing every single year, and throughout the nation, it’s growing faster than every other sport. And now with it being in the Olympics, it’ll be Division I soon.”

“Nobody has a timeline, but definitely sooner than later, maybe within the next five years we will see it grow well past the NAIA. Within the state, we are to the point where we almost need our own Friday nights. I’ve heard coaches ask why don’t we play before the boys play. If we started at 6 p.m., we would be well-done before the boys took the field. That’s coming, but the rules throughout the state would have to change for that to happen because we play two games a night, and the games are really all over the place. They’ll play any night they can get field space, but I do see our own night coming.”

“Every single year we see more and more girls come out and try it. We’re actually starting a middle-school program this year with 16 different schools that will play as feeders to their high schools. We are going on our third summer at McEachern putting on a 24-plus team tournament, and we’ve had some of the top Florida programs come by to compete. Last year, my organization put on an all-star game with 12 different counties and did county versus county at Life University. But quite frankly, not a ton of people have jumped into the space yet and people are starting to.”

Steven Gunn, Newton

“I could see this being as big as us having our own kind of F’riday Night Lights.’ It’s just going to be huge for girls. I see us being able to give girls opportunities at the Division I and II levels in college. Good job and shoutout to the NAIA for picking it up and giving girls $1,000 scholarships to come and play ball. Girls back before this might not have had a chance to play and now to get money to be able to come to school and get an education because they can play ball. That’s huge.”

“I have been playing ball for 32 years, and this is my 14th season coaching, and I hope one day the girls will have their own Friday nights to experience or something similar to that … to get to play on a turf field with fans screaming their names and everything else.”

“As soon as a big-time school picks it up … it will grow like wildfire. They’re going to run with it, and you’ll see girls playing at Sanford Stadium (in Athens) or Jordan-Hare (Stadium in Auburn, Alabama).”

Michael Depa, Chattahoochee

“I think it’s going to be through the roof. We are going into our fourth year, and we are seeing 50% growth each year. They are starting to add middle-school programs and middle-school feeder programs. I do not think it will slow down any time soon.”

“I think coming into the first year for us, I’d only known about like, powderpuff sort of thing. I (thought) this will be fun. I’d coached football for 10 years at that point, and I had to learn the game. I had to learn how to coach. I’d never coached girls before, and I had to learn to communicate a little better with girls, which is good for me. I have one daughter, she’s 4 now, and I have a second daughter that is 1. It has been a great learning experience. I told the girls the first year: You all are helping me grow as a father because I learned to get on the level of trying to teach them about football and had to communicate the football terminology. I had to learn, too.”