Flag football, GHSA’s newest sport, attracts quick interest; bass fishing also sanctioned

Columbus (blue) won the 2019 state championship game held this week at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Flag football, sponsored the past two seasons as a club sport by the Atlanta Falcons and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, will become an official GHSA varsity support in 2020.

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Columbus (blue) won the 2019 state championship game held this week at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Flag football, sponsored the past two seasons as a club sport by the Atlanta Falcons and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, will become an official GHSA varsity support in 2020.

About 75 Georgia high schools already have indicated they're planning to play girls flag football next fall, according to GHSA executive director Robin Hines, who sent out intent-to-participate forms to member schools this week.

The numbers are expected to grow rapidly ahead of the inaugural season next fall, when the GHSA becomes the fourth state association to sanction the sport.

“We think it’s going to be wildly popular,’’ Hines said Thursday. “Football is a very popular sport in Georgia.’’

The GHSA’s plans to make flag football a championship varsity sport was announced this week by the Arthur M. Blank Foundation and the Falcons, who have funded a pilot program with high school club teams the past two years.

The GHSA actually made the decision to move forward after the inaugural pilot season went so well last year. It began with Gwinnett County schools in 2018 and expanded into Cherokee, Forsyth, Muscogee, Rockdale and Henry counties this fall. There were 52 schools  participating in the season that just concluded with playoffs and a championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, according to the Falcons.

In Florida, the first state to sanction flag football as a championship varsity sport, more than 250 schools fielded teams this fall.

“We knew the need for more girls’ sports in Georgia was there, and that was enough for us to get started,” Falcons president and CEO Rich McKay said. “The goal was always to get this program to become an officially sanctioned sport and give girls more opportunities to play sports in high schools and we are thrilled that the GHSA shared the same vision. It’s an exciting time for high school sports in Georgia.”

Hines also confirmed a second new GHSA sport, bass fishing. The GHSA will do a trial run with an invitational tournament in March. The first official bass-fishing championship would be held in the spring of 2021.

The GHSA annually sends a membership survey to its 450-plus member schools to gauge their interest in new sports, but doesn’t always add one. Bass fishing and flag football have rated at the top recently.

“We’re always looking for opportunities for our females to participate, and (flag football) is something that’s shown the greatest interest among our membership,’’ Hines said. “We have great female participate in high school sports, but it’s even greater for males. We want to balance that.’’