After an inaugural season that captured the hearts and minds of the most casual sports fan, including a write-up in Time Magazine and coverage by NBC News, the Utah Girls Tackle Football League (UGTFL) was back in 2016, building on its remarkable momentum. Undoubtedly, the league’s greatest legacy has included the awareness it raised about sporting equality while providing an opportunity to help establish female football at a grassroots level.
Expansion was definitely the theme of the second season, as a remarkable increase in the number of registered players resulted in the addition of a new division. League co-founder and current president Crystal Sacco, a former gridiron competitor with the Utah Falconz, also engages in admirable work as a swim instructor for disabled individuals through the Superior Adaptive Swim School.
Among a group of exceptional people donating their time in helping to bring an exciting new era for sporting equality, Sacco’s own experiences as a player brings an empathic connection to the league’s values. In reflecting on the remarkable increase in both player participation and overall interest, she notes that the bigger victory is the dedicated commitment to fitness, growing quality of play and increased self-esteem,
“Compared to last season we had doubled our numbers, we also added the Jr. High School Division, it had created more competition and the girls who played last year had improved tremendously.
I enjoyed watching these (girls) learn football, the game of football and how it is played. I also enjoyed watching these girls create friendships with each other. I love the fact that these girls have more confidence in themselves. We actually had some girls lose weight throughout the football season.”
With eight players per team on the field, each possession starts from the team’s own 40-yard line, while there are no kick-off returns or special teams. Utilizing smaller sized game balls and fewer linemen (which prohibits blitzing), the objective in the UGTFL is to allow more chances for the players to run and catch the ball. Incorporating safety, which is ensured as all coaches must be Heads Up certified through USA Football, while fostering friendship in a fun environment are definitely among the key values for the breakthrough league.
“We try to keep it positive and fun for newer players by making the girls feel welcome that first day when they step on the field. The coaches are really good about teaching newer girls football,” explained Sacco.
Featuring three divisions of play, and team names such as Orange Crush, Ice Demons, Outlawz, Dynamite and Hurricanes, a landmark moment for the UGTFL took place on June 11th, 2016 as a new chapter in sporting Americana took place. The Red Dynamite and the Black Diamonds graced the gridiron in the first ever all-girls tackle football championship game.
Building on this exciting momentum resulted in another pair of title games. Competing in the 5th/6th grade Division, the Whitehawks defeated the Black Panthers while the Jr. High Division saw the Black Diamonds emerge victorious. One victory that was definitely shared by all players was the chance to be among the participants at a youth football camp hosted by the University of Utah Utes football program. Following said camp, these youthful gridiron pioneers were invited to tour the facilities after the conclusion of said camp, only adding to the feeling of progressive acceptance.
Through it all, the most important aspect of the UGTFL involves teamwork at all levels. While Sacco is a highly visible presence, she was not alone in helping make this empowering dream a reality. Having founded the league with help from Brent Gordon, whose daughter Sam graced the cover of Wheaties, along with Samantha Rapoport, whose tireless efforts to grow the game include her role as director of football development at USA Football, their collaborative efforts embody the spirit of success that comes through cooperation and support.
Both Gordon and Rapoport are also among the members of the UGTFL Board, which includes Angela Cox, Reese Howell, Jr., Linda Howell and Mandy Carrington. In addition, there is an Advisory Committee which includes Aleshia Coleman, Scott Merrill, who pulls double duty as one of the league coaches and Dan Powers, who brings an extensive coaching background from Omaha. Admiring all their efforts, Sacco also recognized the ability of one member to set a positive yet inspiring example for all involved, awarding a symbolic game ball so to speak.
“This season I would like to tell you that one of my board members, Mandy Cade Carrington, had really worked hard on making sure each team had what they needed. I also think the team Moms did amazing as well.”
Since the first UGTFL game was held on May 23, 2015, every subsequent game brings with it an opportunity to keep breaking barriers, win over new fans, raise awareness that football is for everyone, while simultaneously making history. Of note, their success has already seen other communities aspire to emulate their accomplishments. Among them is Mooresville, Indiana, which shall feature the first all-girls tackle football league in the Hoosier State. Open to girls in grades 5-9, Mooresville Youth League director Chad Oldham was motivated by the interest in his daughter to grace the gridiron.
Perhaps the most endearing aspect of Mooresville shall be the same one that has made the UGTFL such a special experience. While the playing opportunities represent a great importance, the involvement of the parents also adds a profound, human element to the game, bringing family together on and off the gridiron.
That sense of family also extends to a special camaraderie among the parents. Sharing a message of thanks that she received from one of the parents, it embodies Sacco’s vision, unifying people together in a safe yet respectful environment, allowing them to dream bigger dreams, realizing any obstacle can be overcome while enjoying fulfilling friendships.
“Crystal, sorry for this message being long but my heart is full right now. I just want to tell you thank you so much for everything you have done to follow your dream. By you creating this league, not only did you allow my daughter to play a game she loves so much and live her dream. But she has made lifelong friends.
Plus, us parents have made some amazing friendships with the other parents. Our team feels like a family. We took the girls bowling last night and listening to them laugh and talk was the highlight of the season. They have a genuine love for each other. You are responsible for this connection. It also goes beyond just our own team, we have established friendships with other teams too. So I just can’t thank you enough for enlightening all of our lives. You are such an awesome person and I think the world of you and respect you so much…Steph.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
To learn more about the Utah Girls Tackle Football league, please visit: http://www.utahgirlstackle.com/