This past Wednesday here in Las Vegas, Palo Verde HS edged out Silverado HS, 7-6, in the first ever Clark County School District Girls Flag Football Championship. Yes, believe it or not, Flag Football has become an officially sanctioned and fully funded High School Varsity sport here in Las Vegas. For our European readers, Flag Football is a non-tackling variation of American Football, with players wearing Velcro strips (flags) on their hips and the pulling of a flag substituting for the tackling of a player.
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to flip through the photos and contemplate the same high school athletes playing Team Handball. Heck, the photo above looks practically identical to a backcourt player breaking through the defense at the 6 meter line.
The Power of Title IX
And, if you’re like me, you’re probably asking yourself, “Why on earth would Las Vegas schools be adding Flag Football for girls in the first place?” The immediate answer to the question is Title IX, the American law which requires schools to provide equal opportunities for boys and girls. And more specifically a complaint, with the implication of a lawsuit that was levied at the Clark County School District for its athletic programs that were heavily lopsided in favor of boy’s programs.
Faced with that possibility, the school district decided to take action to add another sport specifically for girls. A survey was conducted and several possibilities were considered. The final three candidates were competitive cheerleading, lacrosse and flag football. In the end flag football edged lacrosse primarily due to the fact that flag football has very few equipment costs. Even so, the school district spent $225,000 to run the program this year with half of the costs for coaching salaries. Overall, the program appears to have been pretty successful. Some schools had as many as 100 girls tryout for their teams attesting to the pent up demand for more sporting opportunities.
Why not Team Handball?
While, I applaud more sporting opportunities for girls the limits of flag football are pretty obvious. Most glaringly, it’s a sport with virtually no future for the girls that play it. It’s not an Olympic or intercollegiate sport. In fact, the best opportunity for advancement is the Lingerie Football League. It’s seems unlikely that the NCAA could add it as a sanctioned sport, but reportedly the NFL is at least investigating the possibility. The current lack of collegiate opportunity was the argument most vociferously raised by the growing lacrosse community in Las Vegas. The problem with lacrosse, however, was its costs for equipment. While the wealthier suburbs were strong backers the more urban schools had virtually no interest. Team Handball would also have some cost problems, albeit not quite as much as lacrosse, with Handball goals clearly be the biggest upfront cost.
But, Team Handball does have something neither of those sports can offer: the cachet of being an Olympic sport. And selling potential national team possibilities wouldn’t be false advertising at this point in time. As there might be as few as 100 girls/women in this country playing the sport on a regular basis it’s not a stretch to think that a city wide high school program overnight could identify a dozen national team candidates. Even more importantly, they would be athletes aged 15-18.
What it would take
With Title IX complaints surely to continue it’s probably likely that there might be other locales looking to add girls sports. Here’s a look at what it might take for Team Handball to beat out other sports.
Lobbying Support: With low name recognition and a small constituency it would definitely take some good persuasion to even get Team Handball considered as a possibility. But the right backers could turn the tide for a little known sport. In particular, the USOC could come calling to a School Board meeting to make a case. That alone could tip the scales in Team Handball’s favor.
Funding support: Clark County budgeted $225,000 of its own funds to add the sport. What if the next school district to consider a sport got a sizable grant from the USOC, IHF and commercial sponsors?
Manpower support: While Flag Football was a new girls sport, the school district surely was able to find the needed coaching and officiating from the ranks of regular football. Adding a totally new sport with few individuals having even played it before would be a significant challenge. Accordingly, they would likely need Federation manpower support with training classes for coaches and officials to get such a program off the ground.
The Olympic Host City Solution?
Getting the requisite lobbying, funding and manpower needed necessary to win the day might be pretty challenging to a cash strapped Federation. It’s conceivable, but it will likely take some serious sponsor support. Perhaps the best bet on the horizon is the game changing possibility of the U.S. hosting the 2024 Olympics. As the folks in Chicago will tell you nothing is a given, but come 2017 there’s a strong prospect that the U.S. will be chosen to host its first Olympics since 1996.
So what if part of being host city was the requirement (or at least strong encouragement) to establish a high school Team Handball program? A twofer for the city: address Title IX and provide a pathway for city students to make the Olympics. And what if at the same time a residency program was co-located in that host city for those athletes to continue their training? Given what was done in Atlanta to develop youth handball on a smaller scale it’s not too much of a stretch to envision the possibilities.
And heck, now that Girls Flag Football is an official sport in Vegas, well a whole lot of far fetched ideas seem a lot more possible.