ATLANTA – In 2017, the Atlanta Falcons approached the Georgia High School Athletic Association with a radical proposal: to make girls' high school flag football an officially sanctioned sport. At the time, even Falcons' President Rich McKay was unsure how successful the project would be.
"We were literally concerned, 'What if only five girls sign up for the teams,'" McKay said.
He needn't worry.
Now, two years later, more than 2,000 girls across the state are playing football, and eight teams have taken the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the 2019 girls' high school flag football state championships.
With the help of the NFL and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, the Falcons' initiative has achieved what it set out to accomplish two years ago. As of Dec. 18, girls in all of Georgia's 159 counties can compete in flag football, now an officially sanctioned sport.
"We're just jacked to be a part of it," McKay said. "Football has been my whole life, and to see it actually become a sanctioned sport for girls … is really cool."
Thanks to the initiative, Georgia becomes just the fourth state in the U.S. to offer girls' flag football as a sanctioned sport at the high school level. Troy Vincent, the NFL's vice president of football operations, has a feeling the Peach State won't be the last.
"In the world of football, the states of Texas, Georgia and Florida tell us not what we're going to do, but what we have to do," Vincent said. "This is true inclusion. Georgia is the model for girls' football."
Given the rapid success of the Falcons' project in the state of Georgia, Vincent hopes that McKay and Falcons' owner Arthur Blank can show the leadership of the other 31 NFL teams how they too can promote the growth of the girls' game in their own states.
"As Falcons, we have an obligation in the state of Georgia to promote football," McKay said. "We tried to set this up as a model program. We are a copycat league, whether it's offensive or defensive schemes – let's hope we are when it comes to girls' flag football."
For Vincent, the expansion into women's high school sports represents a meaningful shift in the growth of the game. He said football has taught him some of the most valuable lessons of his life, and now girls' in Georgia can benefit from the game that has given him so much.
"It's monumental," Vincent said. "This is what our sport represents. Football finds a place for you, and this is a perfect example."
From where it started two years ago, McKay could not be more pleased with how fast girls' flag football has taken root in the state of Georgia. Now with the help of the Falcons and the NFL, the rest of the country has seen the passion young women have for the game.
"We thought this was going to be a walk-jog-run sort of project … and we walked and ran," McKay said.