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Buccaneers amp up support of girls flag football

TAMPA — Girls flag football has emerged from its humble beginnings since it started more than 15 years ago as a high school sport, and now it’s getting another boost from the Bucs and the Buccaneers Foundation.

The foundation announced it’s committing $250,000 to a scholarship fund for eligible girls who play flag and tackle football. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Girls in Football Scholarship Fund will be open to all female high school seniors nationwide who participate in a formally sanctioned football program. To be clear, the program will award academic — not athletic — scholarships to those who play flag football and do well in school.

“In the state of Florida alone, we have 260 sanctioned girls flag football teams, yet there are no scholarship opportunities for those student-athletes after high school,” said Darcie Glazer Kassewitz, owner/president of the Buccaneers Foundation and Glazer Family Foundation. “We wanted to fill that void by creating a scholarship program that would reward young women for their academic success as well as encourage them to play football while also creating awareness about the opportunities for women to work in the NFL.”

Applicants for the scholarship must have plans to enroll in a full-time accredited four-year college or university and have earned a minimum 3.0 grade point average (on a 4.0 scale) during their high school academic career.

Alonso coach Matthew Hernandez welcomed the news as another sign that girls flag football has truly arrived as a sport.

“I think it’s an amazing opportunity,” Hernandez said. “I think it’s another one of those recent things that legitimizes what the kids do out there. I think the reaction (of our girls) will be someone recognizes what they’re doing and now they can earn scholarships as others at their school do through other sports.”

The scholarship program represents just the latest effort by the Bucs to inspire and encourage flag football players. Hernandez noted that he had attended the Bucs-Cardinals game with members of his team. In a preseason game, flag football players got to run out with the flag and participate in the coin toss.

The team also had a flag football player announced its fourth-round pick from a draft party at Clearwater Beach last April.

Last year, the Bucs sponsored a preseason flag football tournament at One Buc Place with nearly 40 teams from around Tampa Bay and the state. Many of the teams enjoyed playing a game in the Bucs’ indoor facility. This year, the tournament that will take place at the end of February will feature up to 60 teams.

“With over 45 percent of our fanbase being female, it’s truly important for the foundation to be able to connect and engage with this audience,” said Brian Bell, executive director of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation and Glazer Family Foundation. “From the start the organization has been very intentional in how we approach our programming because we know we have to surround girls with enriching programs that reflect the things that interest them.”

The Bucs also partnered with the Tampa Parks and Recreation department in 2018 to launch the Jr. Bucs Girls Flag Football League, and it donated flag football equipment to more than 90 middle schools.

The Bucs aren’t alone. Nike recently reached agreements with Alonso High and Robinson High, two of Florida’s best programs, to outfit them for the 2020 season. Robinson coach Josh Saunders, who met with Nike officials, said the athletic apparel company is pushing to expand the game beyond the eight states where it’s currently played.

And the Bucs want to lead the effort and inspire other NFL teams follow their model.

“They’re on the forefront of this girls flag football, for lack of a better term, movement,” Saunders said. “Florida is at the forefront and the Bucs are stepping up to help push it.”

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