Gwinnett schools holding state's first girls football league

Friday night lights are something special in Georgia. Lately, however, the Tuesday night lights are starting to shine bright as well.

"Literally, we have these conversations, [like] 'if I was a guy, I wonder if I'd play football,'" said Discovery High School senior Rion McDowell. "Now this opportunity has been given, we don't have to wonder, we actually get to do."

McDowell is part of Gwinnett County Public Schools' new girls flag football league, now 3 weeks into its inaugural season.

"I'm very really very happy they brought it because I don't play any other sports," said Central Gwinnett quarterback Amaria Zachery. "Football is like ... I feel like that's for me."

The league is sponsored by the Atlanta Falcons, the Arthur Blank Foundation, USA Football and ESPN. Schools found out early this school year that play would start, so tryouts and games got going pretty quickly -- meaning a lot of learning in a short period of time for players and coaches.

"Most people didn't know how to play," said Grayson senior Liby Stewart. "It was more, get the basics down, learn, become a family, become a team."

Gwinnett County's league is the first sponsored flag football program in the state of Georgia, and others may be close behind. Atlanta Public Schools announced this week they'd be starting a girls flag football program for 7th- and 8th-graders, also with help from sponsors including the Atlanta Falcons.

"I feel like every county should do," said Discovery High's Madison Boerner. "I think Gwinnett County is the starter of it and it's definitely going to take off."

The GHSA says it would take time to add girls flag football as a state-wide sport. If it shows consistent growth over several years, then, according to a GHSA constitution by-law, "The GHSA Executive Director will appoint a committee and a sport liaison to monitor the sport."

Still, getting this chance is meaningful for the players involved. McDowell says she was invited to Monday's Atlanta Falcons game as a representative of her team, and was surprised when she talked to girls who played middle school football, and found out they were excited to see older girls getting the chance, too.

"It gives girls a place at the table sports-wise," said McDowell. "A lot of the times, it's dominated by guys. Our boys, the football players are so supportive. Our principal comes to every single game. It's really invigorating. It's a really great experience that I'm glad I got to be a part of."