This weekend, AdventHealth Training Center will play host to over 800 girls ages 12-18 and feature 38 teams in a round robin-style tournament to kick off the 2019 Florida girl's flag football season. The tournament is part of a larger effort by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation to grow the game of football in the Tampa Bay area and entire state of Florida.
The teams competing feature some pretty high-profile squads if you're plugged in to the flag football circuit in the Bay area. Both 2018 Class 1A State Champion Robinson High School and 2018 Class 2A State Champion Alonso High School will be taking the same field Buccaneers players practice on at the team's training facility to wrap up their own offseason program before the girl's flag football season begins on March 4.
View photos of the Girls Flag Football Preseason Classic.
"The Tampa Bay Bucs Foundation jumped into this sport and provided such a unique and high-quality experience for the kids," Alonso High School Head Coach Matt Hernandez, who was instrumental in the conception of the event, said. "We hope that Florida serves as the starting point for flag football in the country. There are 300 teams, roughly, that play here and for the Bucs to take hold of that and do something that's never been done before at this level […] it means so much to this sport because it's going to mean a lot to these kids. It also puts some legitimacy to what we do."
"Flag football is one of the fastest growing sports in Florida, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation is committed to providing unique opportunities for youth engagement, participation and development," said Darcie Glazer Kassewitz, Owner and President of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation and Glazer Family Foundation. "We are excited to host an event that empowers young female athletes and inspires healthy activity throughout the state."
Girl's flag football, specifically, has been an FHSAA-recognized sport since the 2002-2003 school year. However, most programs exist at the high school level, leaving a void at the developmental levels that would prepare young female athletes for the sport once they reach high school.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation aims to help change that.
To help foster girls' passion for football at an early age, the Foundation provides enhanced curriculum to participating flag football coaches in the area. Last October, the Jr. Bucs Girl's Flag Football League was announced by Glazer Kassewitz and the Foundation. Launched this week, it is the first all-girls flag football league in Tampa.
But the Foundation isn't stopping there. Through a partnership with the Tampa Parks and Recreation department, 24 local recreation centers will be outfitted with brand-new equipment, complete with Bucs flag belts. Youth athletes will also be provided with annual instruction led by industry experts such as former NFL players and high school coaches, as well as the opportunity to participate in NFL-certified clinics at the Buccaneers' AdventHealth Training Center.
"Part of the thinking when we built this facility was that it is a community asset," Buccaneers Chief Corporate Development and Brand Officer Atul Khosla said. "Giving back to the community, getting these girls to play on the same field as the guys practice on is, I hope, pretty awesome for them. My hope is also that some of them look at it like, 'Hey if the boys can do it, so can I.'"