It wasn’t that long ago – 13 years to be exact – that Flag Football gained ground in Florida, allowing the sport to recognized by the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA).
Since that moment 13 years ago, the sport has grown significantly, gain ground in most corners of the state. However, there are still big gaps where Flag Football teams do not exist, but that gap has slowly closed over the last few years.
However, the roots of the formation of flag football becoming a statewide phenomenal go back even further than that – 18 years ago to be exact.
Back in 1998, when looking for ways to meet national requirements under Title IX rules, which have been around since the passage of the Education Amendments of 1972, that forced public schools that received public funds to provide equal opportunities based on gender. As such the birth of flag football began.
According to the East Bay High Girls Flag Football website, which has kept an extensive history since the formation of the sport in Florida, the FHSAA found they were out of compliance with the law in 1998 and started looking for a remedy to create an equal balance.
The FHSAA quickly found a support from in Bill Massey, who was Athletic Director at Boca Raton High and former Spanish River flag football head coach who organized a league of 60 teams in Palm Beach County. But the big result of getting the ball rolling was when the FHSAA started flag football as club sport with 17 schools in the state.
With the ball rolling at that point, enthusiasm grew allowing the FHSAA to move the sport out of club status into recognized status in 2003. The move made Florida the first state to officially recognize flag football as recognized sport and allowing the sport to compete for a state championship for the very first time.
Over the years, the number of schools fielding a flag football team have increased nearly threefold. Entering the 2016 season there are now over 250 schools fielding a flag football team, with that amount tripled compared to the first year. The following graph chart shows just how explosive growth has been since the start:
- Teams in State Series
As such now, the FHSAA has implemented a second classification for Flag Football with 119 schools in Class 2A and 109 schools in Class 1A for the 2016 season with the recent addition of public schools in Miami-Dade County fielding the sport for the very first time. As of this writing 24 of 67 counties now have at least one team sponsoring flag football. There are over 30 schools that also field teams as independents.
As for continued growth of the sport, there is plenty of room for growth to happen.
Areas like Pensacola, Panama City, Gainesville, Southwest Florida and Brevard County are the biggest gaps that exist in the sport, where no teams are fielded at now. However, there has been talk that Escambia and Santa Rosa counties in the western most portions of the Panhandle will soon join in with their neighbors over in Okaloosa County where Flag Football is now entering its third season overall. But anything substantial by these counties has yet to been brought to the table for approval.