The afternoon sun beat down on a green grassy field with painted white lines while whistles blew and drill instructions were yelled out. During a water break, a coach broke down a few key plays to eager participants, who listened attentively before breaking out into more positional groups.
“Fake Ram One to Lion Two, everybody got it?” the coach said as he was met with nods and shouts of affirmation. It was a fake handoff to one running back and a give to the other in the backfield. This was a football clinic. It was also for girls.
The Buccaneers Jr. Bucs Girls Flag Football League launches this spring. The first event in advance of the launch was the Grrridiron Girls Clinic led by Dr. Jen Welter, the NFL’s first female coach. Over 200 girls of all ages learned the fundamentals of flag football from one of the most prominent female figures in football and it’s just the beginning because of the Buccaneers.
Through a partnership with the City of Tampa Parks and Recreation department, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation is equipping 24 local recreation centers with brand new flag football equipment, including Bucs flag belts, to encourage girls to get involved with the game from an earlier age. Young athletes and coaches will receive expert instruction and the chance to develop their skills through training opportunities. Each recreation center will have the opportunity to form their own team and compete against one another starting in March of 2019, as well as become a registered NFL FLAG League and the first city-wide girls flag football league in the Tampa Bay area.
“Flag football is one of the fastest growing sports in Florida,” Buccaneers’ Co-Owner and President of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation and the Glazer Family Foundation Darcie Glazer Kassewitz said. “They are playing it in high school, so it’s so important for us to really get these girls out here earlier, get them interested and involved to really level the playing field so they can do great things in high school.”
In 2017, more than 300 Florida high schools reported flag football programs. For the last 15 years, girls in the state have been afforded the opportunity to be part of those programs at the high school level, but the majority of programs are still geared towards boys, with 573 programs statewide. The Grrridiron Girl’s Flag Football Clinic, an existing program led by Welter that has now integrated with the Buccaneers’ larger girls flag football initiative, aims to help change that.
“This is an existing program but this is the first NFL team that really wrapped its arms around it and made a commitment to what can we do for girls and women,” Dr. Jen Welter said. “To literally see [Darcie Glazer Kassewitz] here really validates it and it’s cool because these kids won’t grow up thinking any other way. Boys are used to seeing things like that and knowing that their participation in football matters.”
This isn’t the first push the Buccaneers have made to involve more women in the game of football and the NFL, in general. Mrs. Glazer Kassewitz was one of multiple female leaders within the Buccaneers organization to participate in the NFL Women Careers in Football Forum that helps prepare women for football operations roles. The Buccaneers want to change the culture around women in football at all levels to make sure that girls feel like their participation is possible when it comes to the sport. Clinics like the one on Saturday serve as an introduction to how fun and empowering the sport itself can be.
“We really want girls to know that there are tremendous opportunities in the NFL and by going to all these events and by giving girls the opportunity to get out on the field, it’s exposure and it really opens up their mind that they can do it,” Glazer Kassewitz said. “If you watch these girls from the first ten minutes they were out there until now they have a tremendous swagger out there, they are having a great time.”
Welter was aided by coaches from the Tampa Bay Inferno, a women’s tackle football team who plays in the Women’s Football Alliance. They are a semi-professional team based in Tampa and taught all the young ones in attendance the fundamentals of the game as well as gave them something to aspire to, making them aware that they can have a future in the sport.
“Thankfully it’s a time in our culture right now where it is very female forward,” Welter added. “If I had to say anything, knowing that half of NFL fans are women, the future of football is female and it looks really good out here today.”