EAGAN, Minn. — The inaugural girls flag football season sponsored by the Vikings reached the end zone Saturday during a jamboree inside Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center's Indoor Practice Facility.
Andersen United, Jefferson and Olson Middle Schools in Minneapolis Public Schools participated in a three-week season before hitting the turf with six Vikings players as honorary coaches.
C.J. Ham, Greg Joseph, Josh Metellus, Janarius Robinson, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Kenny Willekes joined the teams for the jamboree and were impressed by the middle schoolers' talents.
"I just love to watch people compete, and these girls came out here and did that well," Ham said. "I really just saw how much they were conceptually able to understand the game, the way they're throwing the ball, catching it, running it. All of these girls out here really understand the game of football, and if they want to, they can continue to go forward."
Smith-Marsette added: "We had some talent out there across all three teams. Girls were out there shaking and baking."
Vikings Youth Football Manager Madison Cortese said the fun-filled day brought to fruition an idea the Vikings wanted to implement for two-plus years. The rollout, however, was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"One of our main priorities at the Vikings is to grow football participation, and it was time to get girls involved, too, and not just focusing on growing boys tackle football," Cortese said. "Our long-term goal is to have girls flag football sanctioned at the high school level, but that takes a lot of work and a lot of support from our communities, so starting in middle school is kind of a pipeline to eventually get to the high schools."
Ham, a father of two girls and a son, said he'd be all for his daughters having the opportunity to try flag football as a sanctioned sport.
"It would be really cool, just to open this door for the females to come out and play," Ham said. "Football has taught me so much, and I believe no matter what gender you are, football can teach you a lot about life lessons and the world. If my girls are able to play this when they get older, if they want to, I'll be a full supporter."
Kendria Coleman, who is on the Olson team, appreciated the opportunity to play flag football. She hopes the sport gains the same traction that basketball has enjoyed for decades.
"I feel like any woman can do anything she puts her mind to, face your dreams, keep it going, so I would most definitely come back and play flag football any chance I get," Coleman said. "I would like to see more girls play.
"If you put your mind to something, you should be able to do it in your future and shouldn't let anybody bring you down or stop you," she added.
Amani Davis of Jefferson was excited to tell her grandmother, who "loves the Vikings," about getting to learn directly from players.
"I was going to say no [to playing flag football] because I don't play any sports except for volleyball, but one of the people at my school, they were like, 'You should try.' The first game, I didn't go," Davis said. "The second game, 'Oh, this is nice.' I knew we were going to come here, but I didn't know we were going to have actual football players help us. That's cool."