Written by Zach Alvira
The Arizona Cardinals donated $10,000 to the Chandler Unified School District as a way to support the six girls’ flag football teams with new equipment and to further grow participation numbers in a sport that is rapidly becoming popular in the East Valley and across the country. (Corey Cross/Contributor)
Girls flag football in Arizona and the East Valley has grown exponentially in the last two years.
At the forefront of the growth has been the Chandler Unified School District, which established inter-district play for the six high schools and held its first-ever district championship game — which was won by Hamilton — last spring.
The growth of the sport has caught the attention of other districts and the Arizona Cardinals, who donated $10,000 to the district Thursday, Sept. 1 for new equipment and to further promote the sport for even more growth.
“I think this is a way to really promote the sport outside of Chandler,” Hamilton coach Matt Stone said. “After opening up an opportunity for the rest of the state to jump on board last year, I think this year we expect at least five or six more districts to play in the spring with us.
“The Cardinals, last year, wanted to be a part of this and we need the support.”
The check presentation, which took place inside the weight room at Hamilton, was part of the Nike Kickoff Classic, an All-Star game for players from all six high schools.
With help from the National Football League, the Nike Kickoff Classic serves as the kickoff to the high school football season, which began Sept. 2 for all CUSD schools. Cardinals’ mascot Big Red, cheerleaders and other members of the team’s community relations team were present for the All-Star game. Markus Golden, linebacker for the Cardinals, was an honorary coach and roamed the sidelines during the game.
Nicole Bidwill, the daughter of late Cardinals’ owner Bill Bidwill and the sister of current team owner Michael Bidwill, presented the check to the athletes and posed for photos ahead of the game. She also praised the athletes and coaches for their action in growing the sport.
“It’s amazing. It is just so exciting that ladies flag football is going to become a fully sanctioned high school sport,” Bidwill said. “It’s so exciting for our team and we are happy to be here to support it and raise awareness and raise the creditability for it. These ladies are phenomenal athletes playing the sport they love.
“I was the only daughter raised around the football team so to see all these ladies out here playing this sport, it means a lot to me, too, personally.”
Chandler schools set the stage for what is has now been identified as an emerging sport by the Arizona Interscholastic Association. With the identification, girls flag football could be an official sanctioned sport by next year.
I’m August, the AIA said the growth of girls’ flag football has been intriguing. If it becomes ab official sport, much like what the AIA did with girls volleyball years ago, it will likely run in conjunction with tackle football in the fall.
While details are minimal, AIA Executive Director said the girls’ championship may take place the same week as the boys’ games. The venue of those games remains unknown.
But it’s still an exciting time for players in CUSD.
“It’ll be great,” Hamilton junior Catarina ‘CC’ Maccagnano said. “It’s sad that it is barely happening now, it should’ve happened sooner. But we still get the opportunities, and this will go even farther. I’m really glad the new girls, the freshmen, will have more opportunities.”
Maccagnano led the Huskies to the championship last season. She was also one of two quarterbacks in the district to participate in the first ever Elite 11 competition for girls’ flag football quarterbacks.
She traveled to Las Vegas last May to compete in the Nike-sponsored competition. It was another sign about how much the sport has grown across the country. Some states have already adopted it as an official high school sport with state championships held every year.
Arizona is now moving in that direction, especially with other districts jumping on board.
“This is special to me as I was once like them, and now I get to coach them and see them play at this higher level,” said Casteel assistant coach Rae Black, who played girls’ flag football in college where it was an intramural sport. “I appreciate the Cardinals jumping in. Last year, it was the coaches that had to do everything.
“It’s nice to have some help as it is on its way to becoming an AIA sport and I appreciate people noticing the girls.”
Along with Chandler last year, some schools were able to establish teams.
Mountain Pointe led the charge in the Tempe Union district, which will now have more teams at its schools. Gilbert schools have jumped on board as well as Mesa. Scottsdale schools have also started forming teams, as well as Xavier Prep in Phoenix, which has well over 100 players for a tryout held early in the new school year.
As Special as it has been for coaches and administrators, it’s been special for players like Casteel quarterback Cameron Anderson. She was the other CUSD quarterback invited to the Elite 11 competition. Though, because she is a club soccer player, she was unable to attend.
But she’s been one of the pioneers for the sport alongside her teammates. And now to have the Cardinals in their corner has made her upcoming senior season even more special.
“It has been so cool to see a sport I never thought I would ever play going into my freshman year and now I’m graduating this year and playing in an All-Star game,” Anderson said.
“There’s so much potential with this sport. I think it’s so cool the Cardinals have decided to come and support us and donate to all the potential in the future.”