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Timeline: Road to girls flag football becoming IHSA-sanctioned sport
Story by Gabby Hajduk

The Bears have played an integral role in supporting girls flag football throughout the past four years. Below are the notable moments that have culminated in the IHSA making girls flag football an official sport beginning this fall.

March 2020: Bears manager of youth and high school football Gustavo Silva attends NFL youth football meetings in Las Vegas where Nike announces a $100,000 equipment donation to support girls flag football. Silva reaches out to Chicago Public League senior manager of elementary sports Juliana Zavala about bringing the sport to the city; Zavala is immediately on board. The pair meets virtually with Illinois High School Association representatives to inform them of their intent to start a league in 2020 and set a goal of having the sport sanctioned in 2024 While COVID-19 postpones the original plan, Silva and Zavala keep working to have the league ready for the following year.

June 2021: The Bears work with NFL Flag and CPL to host a coaches and officials clinic at Kenwood Academy in preparation for the league's launch.


August 28, 2021: The Bears host the first annual girls flag football jamboree at Englewood Stem High School. 15 teams participate in the event.


September 11, 2021: The first season of girls flag football kicks off with 22 CPL teams.

October 16, 2021: Back of the Yards College Prepatory High School wins the inaugural CPL Championship.


May 2022: The Bears host an informational coaches meeting and clinic at Halas Hall as the girls flag football league looks to expand beyond the city.

August 28, 2022: The Bears hold the second annual jamboree at Englewood Stem with over 40 teams, nearly tripling the amount of attendees from 2021. Dr. Jen Welter, the first female coach in NFL history, attends the event to share her perspective and knowledge.


September 10, 2022: The sport's second season begins with 60 teams across three leagues as the Northern Illinois Girls Flag Football league (Rockford) and West Suburban League join CPL in offering the sport to their high schools.

October 29, 2022: The Bears host the first-ever State Championships at Halas Hall. Willowbrook defeats Taft to take home the title, while Kenwood Academy finishes third and Rockford Guilford places fourth.


November 19, 2022: Over 100 girls attend the first college showcase at Halas Hall to participate in pro-style workouts in front of NAIA and NJCAA coaches.


July 29, 2023: The Bears host Karla Martinez Rodriguez, Saniya Shotwell and Emma Jazmin Valenzuela — the first three girls from Illinois to earn college scholarships for flag football — at Halas Hall during training camp. Bears general manager Ryan Poles gives each of the girls a custom jersey and coach Matt Eberflus has them break down the huddle after practice. The players also join Good Morning Football to talk with host Kyle Brandt about girls flag and how the sport changes their lives.

Karla Martinez Rodriguez, Saniya Shotwell, Ryan Poles and Emma Jazmin Valenzuela.
Karla Martinez Rodriguez, Saniya Shotwell, Ryan Poles and Emma Jazmin Valenzuela.
Karla Martinez Rodriguez, Saniya Shotwell and Emma Jazmin Valenzuela sit with Kyle Brandt from Good Morning Football.
Karla Martinez Rodriguez, Saniya Shotwell and Emma Jazmin Valenzuela sit with Kyle Brandt from Good Morning Football.

August 14, 2023: For the second year in a row, Eberflus donates new uniforms to six girls flag teams across the Chicagoland area – Little Village, Fenton, Kennedy, North Chicago, Rickover and Bloom Township. The Bears host those teams at Halas Hall for a Career Expo to teach over 100 young girls about various career paths in professional sports.


August 19, 2023: Diana Flores, star quarterback of Mexico's world champion Women's Flag Football Team, surprises over 700 girls at the Bears' third annual jamboree. Flores shares her inspirational story with the athletes and helps coach them during games and drills.


August 2023: Nike invites the Bears to bring a representative to the Nike Kickoff Classic in Oregon based on the school's success and commitment to the girls flag football. The Bears select Willowbrook, the 2022 state champions.

September 2023: 109 teams in eight leagues across the Chicagoland area kick off the third girls flag football season.

September 29, 2023: The Bears host the first ever Latino Heritage high school football game at Round Lake. Former offensive lineman Roberto Garza attends the game and serves as the honorary captain.


October 29, 2023: Lane Tech defeats Phillips to becomes the first CPL team to win the state championships, which are hosted at Halas Hall for the second year in a row. U.S. Women's Flag National Team's star quarterback Vanita Krouch attends the event to support the girls and present them with their championship medals.

The Chicago Bears host the High School Girls Flag Football State Championship at Halas Hall, Sunday, October 29, 2023, in Lake Forest, Illinois.

November 4, 2023: The Bears host the college showcase for a second consecutive year.

November 29, 2023: Poles visits Round Lake for a Q&A with girls flag football players from various teams across Chicagoland.


November 29, 2023: The Bears honor the top 56 girls flag football athletes at Halas Hall for the first-ever All-State dinner. President & CEO Kevin Warren and chairman George H. McCaskey sign each of the 56 All-State certificates. Warren also surprises Stagg High School coach Saja Alnajjar with two tickets to the Super Bowl. Alnajjar advocated for a girls flag football team at her alma mater and volunteered to coach the team this past season.


December 12, 2023: Zavala is named the Bears' Inspire Change Changemaker Award recipient for going above and beyond in the pursuit of social justice, including being a trailblazer for girls flag football in Illinois.


December 18, 2023: Yeniah Matos Delgado, a senior at Morton East High School in Cicero and is the captain and starting quarterback of the girls flag football team, is named a finalist for the NFL's inaugural "NFL Latino Youth Honors," which recognizes outstanding high school tackle and flag football athletes from around the country for their academic and athletic excellence. Bears President & CEO Kevin Warren surprises her with two tickets to the Super Bowl on Nov. 20 when she visits Halas Hall.

Latino Heritage Youth Finalist Yeniah Matos Delgado

February 14, 2024: The IHSA announces that girls flag football is officially a sanctioned sport and will debut its state series in the fall of 2024 during a press conference at Halas Hall. Warren, Silva, Zavala and IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson speak at the event and answered questions.

In addition to all the work that the Bears, the IHSA, Zavala and others have done to get to this point, Bears Care has also played a pivotal role in the growth of girls flag football in Illinois thanks to an investment of over $375,000 since 2022, which includes grant funds and in-kind donations (uniforms, cleats, protective headgear, socks, mouthguards, etc.)

Craig Anderson, Juliana Zavala and Gustavo Silva.
Craig Anderson, Juliana Zavala and Gustavo Silva.
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