Hollister High junior Grace Peffley, left, and the Haybalers girls' flag football team will compete in the fall. (Jonathan Natividad/Hollister Free Lance)

“Touchdown Hollister” may have a new meaning this fall. 

With the California Interscholastic Federation and Central Coast Section approving girls flag football, Hollister High will field a team and compete on the gridiron in a 7-on-7 version of the popular sport.

The games should be, “fast-paced and exciting for players and spectators alike,” said Hollister Athletic Director Tod Thatcher, who will also serve as the Haybalers’ head coach.

The girls will receive real football coaching from Thatcher and assistant coach Trevor Fabing, who are also on the boys football staff. 

Since Aug. 21, a core group of 35 girls have been practicing, learning fundamentals and understanding route running, along with picking up different defenses and other football concepts.

“Everyone is playing every position,” Thatcher said. “It’s going to be a throw and catch game, with these rules. More of a spatial game. The girls have an awesome work ethic. We had four solid two-hour practices the first week. They keep showing up and every day we build. Their attitude is super fantastic.”

The contests will consist of two 20-minute halves, with a running clock until the last two minutes of each half. The structure is intended to allow a game every hour, providing for the possibility of multiple games in a day, such as in a jamboree. 

The 7-on-7 structure, with all offensive players eligible to catch a forward pass, shows a similarity to the action-packed offensive showcases in 8-man tackle football played at small high schools, including nearby Anzar.

Other key rules include the field length of 60 yards, with a width of 40 yards. There will be no screening or blocking and no leaping or spinning, in an effort to reduce the injury risk.

Earlier discussions with the leading Southern Section and within the CIF looked at putting the sport on the spring schedule. The fall season was chosen instead, as it was felt conflicts with popular spring sports such as lacrosse could hinder participation.

The CIF’s Southern Section approved the sport last September 22 by a vote of 

61-26, putting the proposal on the CIF state agenda in an October meeting. 

That led to a positive vote at a subsequent state council meeting this past February, followed by a rulebook that was written and distributed publicly the following month. 

Approval at the February meeting set the table for a Fall 2023 launch throughout California, with each section able to manage the sport with their own schools. 

Other states have also been progressing with girls flag football. 

A National Federation of State High School Associations survey last year showed 15,716 girls participating in prep flag football in 2021-22, an increase from 11,209 in 2018-19. At that time, there were 15 colleges offering the sport and that number is certain to grow fast.

Popular acceptance and a view of the on-field action in California came last spring. The NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers, in partnership with USA Football and Nike, sponsored the Los Angeles League of Champions. Competitive high school girls flag football play (not under the CIF) took place and was successful.

Hollister’s schedule is still being worked out, but look for Saturday games with opponents including Salinas, Watsonville and Monterey high schools. 

Additional nearby schools fielding teams include King City, Soledad, Carmel, Scotts Valley, Soquel, San Lorenzo Valley, Harbor and Aptos. There are no Pacific Coast Athletic League games scheduled this year.

According to Thatcher, the season may start Sept. 9 and that could be just a scrimmage where coaches could make it a teaching environment, stopping the game at times for instruction. 

The competition would then begin in earnest on Sept. 16 with the last day of the campaign being on Nov. 4, which would be the date Hollister is planning to host at Andy Hardin Stadium. 

Flag football became the 27th athletic program offered at Hollister, making it a real sport for girls to score touchdowns, record interceptions and convert on those critical third-down situations.

The girls cautiously asked Thatcher a big question: Do we get uniforms?

“Yes,” Thatcher said. “They will arrive soon. They will wear a Hollister uniform just as proudly as the boys do.”

You can  learn more about CIF flag football rules at: https://cifstate.org/sports/flag_football/CIF_FLAG_FOOTBALL_RULES.pdf

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