Grow Her Game / Arizona. 01.06.24. History was made last Saturday in Arizona where we launched our Grow Her Game initiative, the first of its kind to bring much-needed support and attention to young female flag football athletes and their coaches. From early morning hours to well past sunset, we hosted the first-ever conference for girls flag football coaches, a free training camp for elementary and middle school girls, and a showcase tournament for the best high school girls flag football teams in the state. By the numbers:
40 registered coaches
70 elementary and middle school girls
6 elite Arizona high school girls flag football teams
1 Olympic silver medalist
1 NFL starter
1 Quarterback and Captain of the US Women’s National Flag Football team
1 college women's flag football head coach
Coaches Conference [ 9am to 2pm ]
While 1,000 athletes competed in our G SERIES tournament in the fields outside, girls high school flag football coaches from across the state joined us in the Mesquite High School auditorium for a dedicated conference just for them.
Following a welcome from Gridiron CEO, Scott Dillon, and host school flag football coach, Chad Montgomery, coaches enjoyed a series of keynote speeches from sports leaders and participated in a roundtable on the challenges they’re facing in high school athletics.
Vanita Krouch, Quarterback and Captain of the US Women’s National Flag Football team. Vanita shared her personal story of overcoming adversity and courageously blazing new trails in sports, and in life.
She and her family are refugees surviving the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s. Upon arriving in the United States, her father left their family and her mom became a single mother of four working a $3.25 minimum wage job. But with the support of their church, family friends, and two special teachers, Vanita not only survived, but thrived.
In third grade, Vanita got her first taste of sports. She joined a youth soccer team. The next year, basketball; later receiving a full ride scholarship to play basketball for Southern Methodist University (SMU). After graduating, she discovered flag football. And in her words, she “drank the coolaid” and never looked back. Now 17 years later, she is regarded as one of the best flag football quarterbacks in the world (earning the title of the “Tom Brady of Flag Football”), leading Team USA to a 25-1 record with her eyes set on the 2028 LA Olympics.
But for her, it’s all about paying it forward. She wants little girls to know “You an do it. You should do it”.
“It’s an honor to be a part of this journey. We’re writing the pages of history together right now. We’re living in it. One day, people are going to look back at us and what we’ve done as our inaugural moments for many of these journeys. It’s been very meaningful.”
Lyndsey Fry, hockey coach, broadcaster and Olympic silver medalist. Inspired by a childhood classic, “Mighty Ducks”, Lyndsey was determined to forge a future in ice hockey… in a desert state with no more than 20 other girls playing. And she did.
So she began playing hockey with the boys. It wasn’t until high school that she joined a girls team, flying back-and-forth to Colorado on weekends to play for the Colorado Select. But it paid off. In 2011, she was recruited to play Division 1 college hockey at Harvard University. During her time there, she was invited to join the 2014 Olympic Ice Hockey Team and won the silver medal with Team USA in Sochi, Russia.
Like Vanita, Lyndsey is passionate about inspiring the next generation of female athletes. And as a former athlete and now coach herself, she admitted that coaching female athletes can be different than their male counterparts. But ultimately, it’s about getting to know your female athletes as individuals first.
“Some embrace the moment to make history. Others move on. I think, especially, in places where girls and womens sports are still growing, it’s really important to try to inspire those around you to also get involved in the moment. It takes passionate people and time, being willing to put in the work. We can accelerate that time if we have more passionate people. It can’t just be me, it can’t just be her (Vanita), it can’t just be the people in this room. It has to be an auditorium of people that are making this happen.”
Jason Landas, head coach for the women’s flag football team at Grand Canyon University. His journey began on the other side of football, coaching boys 7v7 teams. But as the girls movement gained momentum in Arizona, he made the jump, starting his own girls program, Cobra Kai, and taking the lead of a scholarship-eligible club program at GCU.
“We see how far this sport can go. The game is only getting better, getting stronger. At GCU, we don’t chase trophies. We are building a developmental program for these athletes.”
Training Camp [ 2pm to 4pm ]
Following the conference, we hosted a free training camp for elementary and middle school girls; some participants coming as far as six hours away just to attend. But it was worth it.
Over the course of the camp, athletes engaged in interactive stations, learning foundational non-contact football skills. They received group and 1:1 instruction from our Gridiron coaching staff, high school coaches, Vanita Krouch and Arizona Cardinals’ starting tight end, Trey McBride.
Arizona Showcase Under the Lights [ 6pm to 10pm ]
There’s nothing like a football game under the lights. But for most high school girls teams, it’s an experience they’ve yet to have. Until now.
On Saturday evening, we hosted the first inaugural Arizona Showcase, a tournament for six of the state’s best high school girls flag football teams: Eastmark, Canyon View, Red Mountain, Mesquite, Corona Del Sol, Mountain Ridge. More than a series of games, it was a seminal moment in Arizona high school flag football history. After years of fighting for the chance to play as an AIA sanctioned varsity sport, 2023 marked the year it finally happened. And the Showcase tournament provided well-deserved recognition of that achievement, honoring the young women and their coaches who are blazing a new trail for this sport in its first year.
And wow, what a night it was. The competition was fierce and fast-paced. There were countless Sports Center-worthy plays, epic touchdown runs, 30 yard bombs, field goal extra points, and incredible maneuvers around aggressive defensive measures.
Despite near freezing temperatures, the stands were filled with friends, family and fellow athletes. Each one holding their breath one moment, erupting in cheers the next. And while only one team could walk away with the Championship, what really mattered is that they could all (finally) play the game.
Closing Remarks"As a youth girls flag football coach building a Gridiron league and overall flag football awareness in a new market, I have to say the experience we all gained at the coaches conference and the tournament itself was invaluable. I've made significant progress in helping to start a new girls high school program here in Arizona, and having the contacts, resources and overall excitement that Gridiron brings to the girls game for all ages has been incredibly valuable. Hearing the stories and challenges of all those pioneering the growth of girls flag football in Arizona was inspirational to say the least. We appreciate very much what Gridiron does to make these events happen! Great times with good people and so many kids competing was really awesome. Here's to the future!" – Ryan Hart, Gridiron Commissioner, Prescott Valley, Arizona