Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ high school girls flag football league kicks off inaugural season

More than 200 Winnipeg high school girls are kicking off the start of a new flag football league — thanks to the city’s CFL team — and one coach says they’re hoping to break down stereotypes while doing it.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are giving the students a chance to show off their flag football skills in a six-week-long competition between 19 high school teams across Winnipeg.

The league is solely for girls in grades nine to 12.

“You can see how passionate they are about it, and they’re like super pumped,” said Chris Ollson, who’s head coaching Oak Park High School’s varsity girls flag football team.

“They don’t want to be stereotyped into those classic, ‘This is a girl sport or this is a guy sport.’ They’re looking to kind of break some barriers down.”

Starting April 2 and ending May 8, 87 games are slated to happen at Winnipeg Soccer Federation South and St. Vital Mustangs Field. Games are scheduled each Tuesday and Wednesday.

Schools like Grant Park High School, Tec Voc and Glenlawn Collegiate are also taking part.

Ollson said this is the first time there has ever been a high school girls flag football league in Winnipeg, but with 19 teams signing up for the league, he said it’s obvious there’s an untapped market.

“If you look at the numbers that are going to be in this league, look at the numbers that want to be involved within our high school, it’s obviously something that’s desired among the teenagers,” he said.

A group of girls sit in a semi-circle around their coach.
About 30 players are part of Oak Park High School’s two girls flag football teams. Eighteen other teams have joined the league launched by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Tuesday. (Submitted by Chris Ollson)

In fact, Oak Park had to make two teams since so many girls were interested in joining. About 40 tried out and 30 made the cut, making up two 15-player teams.

Most of them have never played flag football before.

“It just makes me super excited that there’s such interest,” said Ollson.

Growing popularity

Nine girls at Windsor Park High School are also getting ready to start the season, co-coach Ashten Vankoughnett told CBC News on Tuesday.

“It’s a great sport,” she said.

“You have to be able to kind of move fast and be agile and be able to grab the flags to get the plate at the end. So definitely there’s some speed required and obviously without the contact aspect which can be appealing.”

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She said the league is filling a gap in the availability of sports teams for young girls, especially in male-dominated sports like football.

“It’s just important that … there are girls sports available,” Vankoughnett, who played flag football herself growing up. 

“They don’t have to kind of shy away from anything.”

When Vankoughnett was younger, she said her dad created a co-ed team for her to join since there weren’t any girls-only leagues available. But more opportunities to play came up as she got older and the sport got more popular for girls.

“When there was an option to put a team in, I was excited to help,” she said.

“I’m just excited that some girls in high school are going to be able to have the same experience that I was.”

Football sports are only continuing to grow in Manitoba, Ollson said, with more and more female tackle teams starting up each year in the province. PIT Football also hosts girls flag football leagues.

“It’s booming right now,” Ollson said. “But it is something that’s really new in this city. So just kind of getting …knowledge of what actually is out there for girls to play and take part in is super important.”

“In the next few years we’re only going to see these numbers continue to grow and grow.”

Oak Park’s first game is set for Tuesday, and Windsor Park kicks off for the first time Wednesday.

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