Terra Linda sophomore Ellie Gilbert could not contain her excitement on Friday, Feb. 3. Just a few hours earlier, the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) voted to add Girls Flag Football to its list of fall high school sports and she was already starting to envision the impact that would have across the state.
“I think just having football already in my life has changed me in so many ways,” said Gilbert. “It helped me understand the sport more. It’s going to help women in sports. I became a flag football coach for youth, which is absolutely one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. I just really hope that now that the CIF vote has been passed, which I’m so thrilled about it, we’re really just starting to push for flag football for everyone.”
The San Rafael teen started playing flag football in middle school through Next Level Sports and it only took one time to get her hooked.
“As soon as I hit the field and I started playing, I just immediately fell in love with it,” said Gilbert. “It was amazing. It was fun. And it was really nice to be able to play a sport that has been so considered dominantly just for boys. Normally, they don’t let girls play football because it’s a ‘boys’ sport’, so, it was really nice to actually be able to open up and just play football. I just fell in love with it along with my teammates.”
Gilbert is working with 49ers Prep and her school administration to ensure that Terra Linda has a flag football team in the fall. 49ers Prep and its Southern California counterparts have played an integral role in driving this CIF vote and bringing flag football to local high schools
That’s in part thanks to Myka Bell, associate counsel with the 49ers and an avid flag football player and coach.
“It [flag football] provides a sense of community,” said Bell. “I know for me personally, when I first moved out to California, we didn’t know anybody…in order for us to feel a sense of community, the first thing that we did was look up the flag football leagues, and they just embraced us so much. A lot of support there.”
Bell has played flag football at all levels including the national level and met her husband through the sport. Together, they’ve committed to growing flag football and now Bell can do that through the 49ers.
“What the Niners are doing right now is hosting a lot of clinics and different skills camps, to be able to kind of encourage more young girls, let them know this is available to you, we want you to not feel pressure and not feel that you don’t have the skill to be able to participate,” said Bell. “That’s what we’re doing now and have been doing for the past few years, to really get that engagement level up, so, once we get the green light, all of these schools will have more than enough participation to get these teams going.”
Through its clinics, camps and outreach, 49ers Prep has positioned itself as a central resource for school districts that want to launch their own flag football teams. Gilbert is among those grateful for the support.
“It’s always been my dream to be able to play football as a real sport,” said Gilbert. “I play basketball and lacrosse at school and it’s just completely different than playing in a club sport because you get to represent your school. I’m so excited that hopefully next year, we’ll have that opportunity to be able to play and I’ll be able to play for my high school.”