Two female middle school students lead effort to open the sport to girls

By Gabriella Dominic     12/4/2019

Katie Wang and Riley Greene are two student athletes who wanted to play flag football. Last year, when they were in fifth grade, the two students from St. Francis of Assisi School in Yorba Linda found out that the rules of the Parochial Athletic League did not include girls for flag football. A year later, Greene, Wang, and 14 other girls from nine schools leveled the playing field.

Parochial Athletic League (PAL) serves students from 44 elementary and middle schools in Orange County. Thirty one schools are OC Catholic schools; nine are schools from other Christian denominations. Many student athletes are involved in a variety of sports such as softball, volleyball, soccer, basketball, track, lacrosse, and now flag football.

“My brother inspired me to play football because I played my first football team with him,” said Wang. “I wanted to have fun and help our team win. My dad inspired me to not give up because he’s always been looking out for me… I love the competition of the sport. Having people play against me was a way I got better as a player. People showed good sportsmanship but were competitive at the same time and it was always a competition about who wanted it more,” shared Wang, who is also part of a sports ministry called Athletes for Christ.

A few girls on the flag football team tried volleyball before and felt that it was not for them. They wanted to try flag football because they enjoy watching NFL football and throwing football with fathers and their brothers. The student athletes mentioned that playing flag football with boys is just like co-ed soccer.

Greene and Wang met with their principal. The girls then wrote a letter to the diocese. Many girls and boys from different schools signed the petition to expand flag football offering to girls.

“Their letter was shared at the principals’ meeting and an overwhelming majority of the principals voted to amend the rules,” said Russ Smith, director of elementary athletics. “By playing sports with the Parochial Athletic League, students have the opportunity to play for their school teams and celebrate school spirit. That’s what we do,” said Smith. PAL now expands flag football to include sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students from all member schools.

Greene shared, “Flag football means a lot to me ever since [the rules] got changed because I’m able to do something for my school and participate for my school. I felt amazing playing flag football this year.”

Some of the girls and boys know each other prior to flag football, but now they start seeing each other as fellow athletes. Eighth graders reflected that they enjoyed the experience of playing flag football and paving the way for other female athletes.

When asked what they would say to people who want to get started on a goal or a dream but have not had the courage, Wang said, “Don’t doubt yourself and say that you can’t do something.”

“Just believe in yourself at first. That’s where you need to start. And we have to be patient. Don’t try to rush the process, wait and pray to God,” encouraged Greene.