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Cleveland Muny League Expands This Year, Now Offering Girls Flag Football | Cleveland

click to enlarge Cleveland Muny League kids during scrimmage practice on the city's east side in the summer of 2022. - Mark Oprea

Mark Oprea

Cleveland Muny League kids during a scrimmage practice on the city’s east side in the summer of 2022.

For nearly 80 years, the Cleveland Muny Football League, the city’s premier youth sports organization for children ages 5 to 15, has trained tens of thousands of boys in the ways of the playing field — some, like Troy Smith and Desmond Howard, for future glory in the NFL.

This year Muny plays a welcome sound.

The league, which follows an emerging national athletics trend, is poised to create the first-ever all-girls flag football division. Two of Muny’s east side teams, the Garfield Bulldogs and the Richmond Heights Conquerors, will debut two all-girl teams this fall season. And not just, as in recent years, mixed teams.

“To be completely honest, there is a demand for flags in general,” Steven Green, lead coordinator for the Conquerors, told Scene. “Because many parents started to fear tackle, flagging was always seen as an alternative.”

“And because it’s fast-paced, it’s attractive to the girls,” he added. “I mean, they play baseball. They do tracking. Why not? flag also?”

The Muny League, which first started in 1946 as a city-sponsored youth sports program, has grown in recent years, with a record number of more than 3,000 players in the 2022 season. Among coaches, coordinators and alumni, Muny is shorthand for both its reputation as a serious football boot camp as well as its coming-of-age community with a knack for keeping kids out of trouble.

And that boot camp just expanded, and just in time: The 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles will host flag teams for the first time in the games’ history.

One of its central lobbyists, Pierre Trochet, the president of the International Federation of American Football, attributed the flag’s place in LA to its egalitarian nature – that is, its lack of hard knocks. It is “America’s greatest sport, in its youngest, most accessible and inclusive form,” Trochet told NFL.com, citing its “extraordinary growth” among women and girls.

Yet in Northeast Ohio, the emergence of the sport in formal settings among children is not taken as seriously. Since 2021, when the mentor-based Northeast Ohio Flag Football division was created, fans and educators alike have advocated for the sport’s designation as a “sanctioned varsity sport” within the Ohio High School Athletic Association, the premier state body of its kind. Eleven other states already sanction the sport.

Since then, numerous sports organizations have pushed for OHSAA recognition, from Mentor High School to the Cleveland Browns.

“To become an emerging sport,” reads a Browns pamphlet on the subject, “the sport itself must function and function solely on its own, without additional financial support, before it can be considered.”

At the Muny League, which is heavily subsidized by grants from the city of Cleveland and $30,000 annually from the Browns — a number that Councilman Mike Polensek called embarrassingly low — there are plans to bring flag football further into the mainstream for both girls and boys.

And of course, a starting point of sorts for Jason Dunn, Muny’s athletic director. He sees the explosion in the number of girls club teams in the region – from 27 in the 2023 season to 51 teams this season – as a sign of things to come.

“But to sustain that (growth) over the long term, you have to have a feeder,” Dunn said. “And goods that will be food. We want to do our part in Northeast Ohio.”

Both Dunn and Green said the girls’ flag teams will start shortly after the summer tackle season ends in September.

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