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New Orleans high schools offering flag football to girls for the first time

Organizers enter inaugural season with hopes of one day becoming a statewide sanctioned sport

Trudy Ferrand knows about robotics and computer technology. She teaches both of those classes at McMain Secondary High School in New Orleans.

This fall, however, Ferrand is adding football coach to her list of responsibilities, and she is helping girls at McMain learn the game and develop the skills necessary to compete in the new Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation Girls Flag Football League, which kicked off this week at the city's Pan American Stadium.

Her initial roster of 22 players includes some who played on community teams and others who never picked up a ball before. The common factor between all of them is simple, though - they love football.

"The girls are really, really excited," Ferrand said. "Girls who have played before are instrumental in observing the other girls. They are working together to help each other out. If they see somebody not doing something correctly, they work with them to do better. It's working well."

McMain is one of 15 teams drawn from New Orleans-area public schools. Jeremy Boyce, the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation director of community relations, said he didn't know what to expect when the idea was first pitched.

The response was overwhelming.

"We went to several different high schools, originally with the thought there would be five or six schools that get in the first year, then we hoped to get it bigger," Boyce said. "We had 10 schools that said yes immediately and more than soon joined in. The turnout has been amazing."

The 7-on-7 league with approximately 250 players is part of an NFL initiative, in conjunction with USA Football, to provide an opportunity for high school girls to play football and to offer another opportunity for physical activities.

The NFL and USA Football provided the flags, footballs and jerseys that will be used throughout the season. The Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation and the Orleans Parish Athletic Department manage the league in partnership with the New Orleans Saints, R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and Radio Disney.

Ferrand said it has been a challenge to learn offensive and defensive schemes along with individual plays, but her love of football and of the Saints drove her passion. Even knowing the difficultly, she saw the upside right away.

"Us being girls, out there yelling and screaming and having a good time (during practice) can look unusual to some," Ferrand said. "But we are getting into it. The rules are different than we are used to in the NFL, but the concepts are the same."

The team gives girls a chance to develop teamwork and communication skills with their peers, Ferrand said. Players who had little connection before are becoming a cohesive unit.

"The girls have really bonded," Ferrand said. "We went out and bought cleats together. Some of the girls who never played before didn't know what to look for. The ones who had knowledge of it helped them with style and sizing. They really feel like they are one."

It also has captured the support of McMain students.

"Some of my players are water girls for the boys' football team, so those players are acting as water boys for our team," Ferrand said. "The band has asked to come and play at our games. The school is excited."

The goal is to grow similar leagues throughout the state, Boyce said, maybe one day getting enough schools so it can become supported by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association. Only two states - Florida and Alaska - currently recognize girls flag football as a sanctioned sport.

Another objective is to bring New Orleans businesswomen together with budding leaders of tomorrow. Boyce said the league has "caught fire" with potential sponsors.

"We bring in women business-owners to talk to the players, so the players see they are supported by these strong women," Boyce said. "They show that women can get involved and manage things on and off the field.

"We are already looking to bigger and better things next year. We can't move this fast enough."

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