The baseball dugout at Elizabeth High School is filled with the sounds of girls discussing stinky cleats, no-show socks and misshapen mouthguards. They’re filled with excitement and optimism. They aren’t there to play baseball; they’re part of the new EHS girls’ flag football team. What began as a group of about nine students has grown to 15.
John Everhart, the athletic director at EHS, enjoys playing flag football himself and jumped at the opportunity to add the program. Flag football is “a really cool spin on football,” he said, and is a “positive outlet for girls.”
Everhart’s overarching goal for EHS Athletics is for “our coaches to continue to push our athletes for growth both on and off the field in a positive way. I want all of us to be all in on the goal of moving forward each day.”
Summer Katzoff, an EHS teacher of 18 years, is the head coach. Fellow teacher Stephen Salansky is co-coaching. They started off teaching the fundamentals — passing, flag pulling, and learning to run routes.
Terminology like “checkdowns” and “rushing” are largely new to the team. The girls’ flag football team is not only moving forward but making huge leaps.
London Machado, a junior, was the first to sign up to play. Machado said it’s “so exciting to be in a new sport at EHS.”
EHS will play much larger schools like Cherry Creek, Columbine and ThunderRidge; for comparison, some schools have enough students to field four teams. At a coaching clinic hosted by the Denver Broncos, Katzoff met a coach who had 100 girls show up to play.
Despite this, Machado remains undaunted, “We might not be the best, but you don’t learn anything from winning. It’s good to be outside and get the experience.”
The first Jamboree, a series of three games per team, was on Aug. 26.
Everhart was in attendance and witnessed the team adjusting their game and making changes on the fly. Coach Katzoff made mid-game adjustments to the defense and started pressuring the quarterback. The strategy change paid off; after two losses, EHS won their third game against ThunderRidge High School 20-0.
On Sept. 1 EHS hosted their first home flag football game and on Sept. 23 EHS will host a Jamboree for 11 other flag football teams.
Girls’ flag football started just last year in Colorado and has exploded in growth. In 2022, there were about 22 teams and this year it’s more than doubled, for a total of 54. Teams can play more games this year too: 23, up from 19.
There is no formal girls’ high school flag football league in Colorado; the Colorado High School Activities Association has instituted a two-year pilot program to gauge if there’s enough interest. The Broncos, alongside CHSAA, launched the program with the goal of helping it become a sanctioned sport statewide by April 2024.
Flag football is unique because any girl, with any level of experience, can succeed. Bobby Mestas, the Broncos’ director of youth and high school football development, estimates that 150 of the girls who signed up have never played a high school sport before. All of the girls on the EHS flag football team have played other sports, but none has ever played flag football before this year.
Katzoff is accepting donations to go toward equipment, new jerseys, and the end-of-season banquet. Donations can be made at tinyurl.com/ehsgirls.