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Bears celebrate flag football becoming an Olympic sport

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The International Olympic Committee announced on Monday the addition of men's and women's flag football to the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games. Growing flag football worldwide continues to be a key initiative for the NFL, with the Bears being one of the teams at the forefront of the movement.

"Flag football becoming an Olympic sport is historic and monumental," Bears manager of youth and high school football Gustavo Silva said. "It is a great day for all of us who love the game of football and it means that our game will be featured on the biggest stage in sports, the Olympics. It means that so many young men and women will have the opportunity to represent their country playing the game they love."

When it comes to growing girls flag football both in the United States and internationally, the Bears have been trailblazers. The club's involvement officially began in 2021 when it helped the Chicago Public League launch the first high school girls flag programs in Illinois.

Originally starting with 22 teams in its inaugural season, the league has now expanded to 109 teams, including schools from the West Suburban Conference and the Rockford area for the 2023 season.

"It's been a great three years," CPL senior manager of elementary sport Juliana Zavala said. "We've had great support from USA Football and NFL Flag to do this initiative, but there's been nothing like the Chicago Bears and working with all the staff there and Gus doing an amazing job. We've been growing tremendously here in Illinois.

"It's really exciting to see that and the impact that the girls are having. They're pioneers of this new sport and seeing that it's going to be a 2028 Olympic sport in L.A., it's exciting that one or more of our girls in Illinois could be a part of that team. Without the Chicago Bears, this wouldn't have been possible."

Since starting the league two years ago, the Bears have remained involved by providing continuous opportunities for girls flag football players. The Bears host an annual jamboree each August to kick off the flag football season. At these events, the Bears have brought in pioneers of the sport like Dr. Jen Welter, the first female NFL coach, and Diana Flores, star quarterback of the world champion Mexico Women's National Flag Football Team.

Diana Flores
Diana Flores
Dr. Jen Welter
Dr. Jen Welter

Right now, women's flag football is only sanctioned in some NAIA schools and junior colleges. Silva and Zavala hope that the representation of girls flag football at the Summer Games will expand opportunities for the sport within the NCAA.

Over the summer, the Bears hosted three girls flag football athletes, who made history as the first female players from Illinois to earn college scholarships in the sport.

All three of the now-collegiate athletes — Emma Jazmin Valenzuela, Karla Martinez Rodriguez and Saniya Shotwell — were noticed by college coaches at a showcase event hosted by the Bears in November 2022.

Ryan Poles with Emma Jazmin Valenzuela, Karla Martinez Rodriguez and Saniya Shotwell
Ryan Poles with Emma Jazmin Valenzuela, Karla Martinez Rodriguez and Saniya Shotwell

"I just feel so many opportunities and doors will be opened now," Zavala said. "And the fact that our league was started here in Chicago, it makes me happier to know that everyone here has been a part of something big. And it's only going to expand. I see really great things. I see a lot of the girls right now that are in elementary school and knowing that they're going to have something when they're older, I have no words."

Juliana Zavala and Gustavo Silva
Juliana Zavala and Gustavo Silva

At the international level, the Bears teamed up with the New York Jets in March to launch the inaugural United Kingdom NFL Girls Flag Football League.

Participants in the UK NFL Girls Flag Football League
Participants in the UK NFL Girls Flag Football League

In July, the Bears traveled back to London, bringing support to the NFL UK Flag Football National Championships. They also hosted Mini Monsters clinics, brought to you by United Airlines, in the United Kingdom for the second consecutive summer. The program's purpose is to bring American football to international markets while teaching children the value of physical activity to promote a healthy lifestyle.

"From a girls flag football perspective, the announcement is very gratifying," Silva said. "We have worked for years to grow the sport here in our Chicagoland market and internationally. We have created a dream for girls to play this game at the collegiate level and ultimately the Olympic level one day. This announcement means that their dream becomes more possible and within their reach. I think about people like Amber Clark and Diana Flores and the thousands of girls in Illinois that have taken flag football on, and it makes me so happy for them."

Participants at the NFL UK National Championship
Participants at the NFL UK National Championship

The Chicago Bears Girls Flag Football Program is brought to you by Buffalo Wild Wings, Gatorade, Nike and Visa.

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