With a bump from Chicago Bears, girls flag football taking hold at area high schools — including a playoff run at Stagg

The girls flag football team from Stagg High School in Palos Hills made it to the playoffs in its first year of competition.

And a crowd of zero came to Lake Forest to watch the Chargers quarterfinals game Oct. 28, which ended in a 22-0 loss to Resurrection.

That’s not a misprint. Zero.

The games were held in the Walter Payton Center at Halas Hall where the Chicago Bears practice and no fans were allowed.

But that didn’t bother the Chargers. They still considered it a big-time event.

“There weren’t fans but there was still that energy and that pressure,” Stagg senior quarterback Eve Tobin said.

The Bears have been championing flag football for three years with its Illinois Girls Flag Football State Championship, leading to much appreciation among the athletes and coaches for getting the ball rolling.

But it might be time for the Illinois High School Association to step in and sponsor the sport, which would mean a state tournament with fans.

Stagg coach Saja Alnajjar said that could happen next season.

Girls flag football is on the IHSA’s emerging sports list, with 34 team committing to fielding teams including squads from area high schools Stagg, Sandburg, St. Laurence, De La Salle and Bloom.

But for now, the Chargers are going to enjoy the memories of their first season, which ended up with a 4-4 record and a trip to the state quarterfinals.

“We had a lot of ups and downs,” Alnajjar said. “We learned from those wins and losses. We took the losses and turned them into learning opportunities, which helped us grow each and every game.

“And we were improving each and every week, which helped lead us to state.”

Senior wide receiver/linebacker Meera Khudeira said it wasn’t until August that she even imagined she would be playing on a football team. She said that she agreed to play because Alnajjar talked her into it and that she thought it would be fun and exciting.

It was that, and more.

“We created a lot of bonds with the team,” she said. “We made friendships. We learned a lot.”

Senior wide receiver Camryn Ratliff said she is graduating early, so flag football gave her a chance to finish high school as an athlete.

“It was very memorable and special,” she said. “It opened up a different horizon for me to expand my opportunities.”

It expanded the coach’s opportunities as well.

Alnajjar never played or coached football before. But she saw a need to champion the sport at the Palos Hills school.

“It was time,” she said. “A girls football team was very necessary. The boys have had football their whole lives and the girls deserve that same opportunity.”

She said it wasn’t a tough sell to get players. She had 60 try out for the 20-member squad and she is hoping next season the Chargers will field a junior varsity squad as well.

Alnajjar said she grew up watching the Bears, and being able to take a team to the NFL team’s practice facility was a thrill.

“That part was great,” she said. “I’m a Bears fan and to play there was a lot of fun. Just going to state and all the hard work that went into it our first year definitely paid off.”

There was a learning curve for both the players and the coach.

“They are a great group of girls,” Alnajjar said. “They were very coachable. They were a lot of fun to work with. Just to see how motivated they were made me love coaching.”

Before she took on this job, Alnajjar said she used watch Bears games and second guess coaching decisions.

Now that she’s a coach?

“Yes, I do second guess them,” she said with a smile.

Men and women’s flag football will be a sport in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games and Bears manager of Youth and High School Football Gustavo Silva calls it “historic and monumental.”

College-wise, the sport is on the ground floor with some NAIA schools and junior colleges starting to award scholarships.

It’s a start, and Silva predicts big things for the sport.

“We have worked for years to grow the sport in our Chicagoland market and internationally,” he said in a news release. “We have created a dream for girls to play this game at the collegiate level and ultimately the Olympic level one day.

“I think about … the thousands of girls in Illinois that have taken flag football on, and it makes me so happy for them.”

Jeff Vorva is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.


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