Madison Heights Bishop Foley United, a co-op girls flag football team with Clawson High School, was scheduled  to face Rochester Community Schools at Ford Field on May 7, after press time.

Madison Heights Bishop Foley United, a co-op girls flag football team with Clawson High School, was scheduled to face Rochester Community Schools at Ford Field on May 7, after press time.

Photo courtesy of Brian Barnes

A ‘monumental’ moment for female athletics

Girls flag football takeover at Ford Field

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Metro | Published May 4, 2023


METRO DETROIT — In an effort to grow the game of football for girls through the state of Michigan, Rochester Stoney Creek, Rochester, Rochester Adams, Madison Heights Bishop Foley, and Clawson High School have taken a giant step forward.

A condensed and laid-back version last season — Stoney Creek, Adams, and Rochester — teamed up as a Rochester Community Schools team to go head-to-head against the co-op team of Bishop Foley and Clawson in a girls flag football matchup.

“It was brought up to us through the Michigan High School Coaches Association from the Detroit Lions about growing the game, especially to its female viewers,” Stoney Creek head football coach Nick Merlo said. “So, trying to start girls flag football was a top priority in the NFL, and they reached out to our coaches association looking for individuals to start this up, so we volunteered ourselves.”

Backed by Merlo, Bishop Foley head football coach Brian Barnes and Rochester football coach Nick Reed, the “First Four” Michigan High School teams of Holly High School, Lapeer High School, Madison Heights Bishop Foley United and Rochester Community Schools will compete in the 2023 Michigan Girls High School Flag Football Pilot League this season.

Barnes said the trial run last season was a huge success with both his girls and Rochester’s team.

“It was a pretty awesome experience,” Barnes said. “Our girls had a blast, and his girls had a blast.”

Now, in conjunction with the Lions and the MHSCA, the four teams will play a three-game schedule in 2023 that was scheduled to begin with a 7-on-7 matchup held on May 7, after press time, at Ford Field.

Along with using both Ford Field and the Lions Headquarters in Allen Park for the league’s third game, the Lions are also donating uniforms, flags and footballs for the teams.

“Our coaches association has gotten a partnership with the Detroit Lions’ football educational department,” Barnes said. “We were just talking about ways the Lions could be involved to help grow the game. The Lions have been awesome, and the education department has been awesome there.”

With 32 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics schools offering scholarships for girls flag football, and eight states that have it as an official high school sport in the United States, the potential for the league is already exponential after doubling in size after one season.

There are challenges, including the idea of potentially adding another sport to an already saturated spring season filled with athletics, but it will be hard to argue against making it a Michigan High School Athletic Association sanctioned sport if the demand is there.

At the very least, friendships and strides to grow the game will be made along the way.

‘It’s super cool to get a bunch of kids out there willing to learn something new and be excited about it,” Barnes said. “They naturally come together, and I think a lot of them, especially the older girls, recognize and appreciate how, and I don’t want to be too dramatic, but it’s kind of a monumental thing, and I think they recognize that and support each other.”

The second game of the season will be played at Stoney Creek High School on May 13, and the season will conclude on May 21 at Lions team headquarters in Allen Park.

By next season, maybe more schools will join in on the excitement and be a part of something special taking place.

For now, Merlo said he has one major goal this season with his team.

“I think the overall goal is to provide an opportunity to play this awesome game and create lifelong relationships through this game,” Merlo said. “The game teaches so much about life.”