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Champaign Central Chronicle

Champaign Central Chronicle

Girls flag football will become an IHSA sanctioned sport next fall, but transportation issues delay Unit 4’s entry.

A girls flag football game between two Chicago Public Schools at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Illinois. Photo by Joe Pearson
A girls flag football game between two Chicago Public Schools at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Illinois. Photo by Joe Pearson

On February 14th, the IHSA announced the addition of girls’ flag football to its list of fall sports beginning in the 2024-25 school year, along with its own official postseason and state championship game. 

IHSA directors approved the move in a vote on February 5th, making girls’ flag football the 40th high school sport with a state series in Illinois. Flag football will also become the second new girls’ sport to be given its own state series in the past three years, following the addition of girls wrestling in 2022. 

Girls’ flag football has seen growing popularity across the state in the past few years, particularly with the Chicago Public League’s collaboration with the NFL’s Chicago Bears to introduce the sport three years ago. With the sport officially becoming sanctioned under the IHSA next fall, over 100 schools have announced they plan to field teams next fall, and over 40 other schools have plans to join in 2025.

Big Twelve Conference schools Danville, Peoria, and Richwoods plan on fielding teams beginning with the inaugural season in 2024, while Bloomington, Normal Community, and Urbana plan on fielding teams in the 2025 season. Other local schools, including Mahomet-Seymour, Tolono Unity, and Monticello also plan on participating in 2025, while St. Joseph-Ogden and Champaign Central are listed on the IHSA’s website as anticipated entries for 2026 and beyond.

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However, Central athletic director Jane Stillman states that while Central is interested in potentially starting a program in the future, Unit 4 currently has no plans to field girls’ flag football teams, citing issues with transportation and other costs.

Stillman recalled a meeting where Unit 4 administrators turned down the idea of sponsoring flag football in the current moment, stating, “Right now, we’re so short of drivers and transportation that to add another sport that would need transportation, it might put us over the edge,”

Commenting on the differences between the IHSA’s recent addition of girls wrestling to flag football, Stillman answered, “With girls wrestling it’s because we don’t have a full girls team, we have two girls that wrestle so they just wrestle with our boys,” earlier explaining that for flag football, “It’s transportation, it’s money, you’d have to hire a new coach, you’d have to buy the new equipment, so there’s quite a bit of money that would be in any kind of startup.”

Further commenting on potential challenges brought on by adding a new fall sport, Stillman remarked how Central already sponsors five girls’ sports during the fall season, stretching them thin on athletes.

However, Stillman isn’t opposed to the addition of flag football, answering, “I do like the idea though because I think one of the things with flag football is that you might reach some of the kids that you don’t typically find in the fall either. A lot of our sports in the fall are sports that kids have been doing through clubs and different things all along, and sometimes with football, I feel you can reach kids that have never played a sport before.”

For Central’s new head football coach Matthew Leskis, “Anything that has to do with football I’m all for,” recalling how he’s had two girls play as linemen at his previous school in Hoopeston, one of which managed to play on their varsity squad as a freshman.

When asked about his stance on the district’s transportation issues, Leskis answered, “Transportation’s an issue for all sports, and it’s really not the vehicles, it’s finding the drivers,” going on to claim, “It’s hard because you need drivers during the day, it’s not a consistent full-time job, and people need to volunteer to drive to extracurricular activities.” For Leskis, finding drivers is something paramount to the success of Central’s sports programs. 

When asked about transportation in the case of a brand new sport like girls’ flag football, Leskis remarked, “If you have a sport like that where you can only play at certain schools where the distance is further away, it makes it more difficult for cost.”

For Leskis, finding solutions to the district’s transportation woes could possibly be alleviated from within. “Finding people to drive is difficult, so I’m talking to some coaches who are going to be on my staff and see if they want to get their CDL, and then they can always drive for football.” Elaboratng on how the plan would work, Leskis states, “Unit 4’s paying for them to get it, and then they get paid for driving, they get paid for coaching, they get paid while they’re there and while they drive back, and it gives me a little peace of mind knowing that we got at least one driver every time we need somebody.” 

In general, Leskis hopes the addition of flag football will increase interest in football as a whole, seeing it as a perfect opportunity to jump on in order to grow the game. 

 “I think anything that could bring attention to the game, whether it’s flag football, 8-man, things like that just to keep that game going, I’m all for,” answered Leskis.

Although Unit 4 is unable to currently start flag football teams at Central and Centennial, Stillman wouldn’t consider it a done deal for those interested, stating, “I’m not saying it’s out for us, it’s just that we aren’t gonna do it next year.”

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Adam Edwards, Opinions Editor
Hello, my name is Adam Edwards (Class of 2025) and I am the new Opinions Editor with The Champaign Chronicle.  I began writing articles with The Chronicle in August of 2023, and assumed the Opinions Editor position in Janurary 2024. Feel free to contact me in the links below.

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