Kinnett Stadium will host a new kind of football beginning next month with help from an NFL franchise.
The Muscogee County School District will begin fielding girls flag football teams starting in November. Each public high school in the district will field a team, and each game will be played at Kinnett Stadium, with the exception of four games that will be played at Spencer High School’s football field in late November.
“There’s been a tremendous interest,” Columbus High flag football coach Christian Grier said. “I mean, participation levels are through the roof. I have people coming up to me all the time saying, ‘hey, when’s flag football start? I heard about flag football.’ It’s been an awesome experience.”
The move is a result of the district’s partnership with the Atlanta Falcons, who piloted a similar initiative last year in Gwinnett County.
After a successful first season in Gwinnett, the NFL franchise is pushing the initiative to six counties in Georgia this year. The counties include Cherokee, Forsyth, Gwinnett, Henry, Muscogee and Rockdale — 52 schools in total, according to a Falcons spokesperson.
The district received a $30,000 grant from the Falcons, according to district athletic director Jeff Battles, which funds around 75% of the costs associated with running girls flag football. The grant covers fees for referees, field costs, jerseys, equipment, athletic trainers, administrator fees and coaching stipends, according to a Falcons spokesperson.
The season will begin with four games on November 5, and will run until early December. But for now, most teams are still in the tryout phase of forming a team. The interest, though, is still prevalent.
“We had 40 to 50 girls express interest,” Spencer coach Andrew Smith said. “There’s definitely a lot of excitement about it.”
Grier said between 40 and 50 individuals came to initial meetings at Columbus, and he’s expecting up to 60 girls to try out for the team. Hardaway had around 20 express interest, according to Hawks coach Michael Smith.
There will be challenges, such as learning the rules for flag football (flag football only fields seven at a time, for example) but the teams have enough time to work those out.
Kinnett Stadium will be split into two sides and games will be held on each side, simultaneously. The first games will be Northside vs. Shaw and Spencer vs. Hardaway at 6 p.m. on Nov. 5, with Carver vs. Jordan and Kendrick vs. Columbus High to follow at 7:15 p.m.
The MCSD Championship will be held at Kinnett Stadium on December 9. The winner of that will then travel to Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Atlanta Falcons Champions Day, where it will face another champion from a separate district.
For now, the girls flag football is a one-year program for the district as it is not a GHSA sanctioned sport. The ultimate goal is for it to become one. Battles said the Falcons believe the GHSA will, in the spring, pass for flag football to become a sanctioned sport in the 2020-2021 school year.
The last time GHSA sanctioned a new sport was in October 2018 when it added Esports.
“(The Falcons) are pushing for it to become an official sport in the state of Georgia,” Battles said. “… They are continuing to push it down to the GHSA for next year.”