Cleveland Muny League Expands This Year, Now Offering Girls Flag Football

With dozens of high school club teams playing in Northeast Ohio and a push to make it a varsity sport, the city will offer it to youths ages 5-15

click to enlarge Cleveland Muny League kids at a scrimmage practice on the city's east side in the summer of 2022. - Mark Oprea
Mark Oprea
Cleveland Muny League kids at a scrimmage practice on the city's east side in the summer of 2022.
For almost 80 years, the Cleveland Muny Football League, the city's premier youth sports organization for kids aged 5 to 15, has trained tens of thousands of boys in the ways of the gridiron—some, like Troy Smith and Desmond Howard, for future glory in the NFL.

This year, Muny plays a welcome audible.

The league, trailing a brewing national athletics trend, is set to form its first ever girls-only flag football division. Two of Muny's east side teams, the Garfield Bulldogs and the Richmond Heights Conquerors, will this fall season debut two teams comprised solely of girls. And not just, like in years past, coed teams.

"To be perfectly honest, it's demand for flag [football] in general," Steven Green, lead coordinator for the Conquerors, told Scene. "Because a lot of parents started being afraid of tackle, flag was always seen as an alternative."

"And because it's high-paced, it's attractive to the girls," he added. "I mean, they play baseball. They do track. Why not flag as well?"

Begun first as a city-subsidized youth sports program in 1946, the Muny League has grown in recent years, totaling a record 3,000-plus players signed-up in its 2022. season. Among coaches, coordinators and alums alike, Muny is shorthand for both its reputation as a serious football bootcamp and its coming-of-age community with a knack for keeping kids out of trouble.

And that bootcamp's just been expanded, and just in time: The 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles will be hosting flag teams for the first time in the games' history.

One of its central lobbyists, Pierre Trochet, the president of the International Federation of American Football, chalked up flag's spot in L.A. to its egalitarian nature—meaning the lack of hard hits. It's "America's number one sport, in its youngest, most accessible and inclusive format," Trochet told, citing its "extraordinary growth" amongst women and girls.

Yet, in Northeast Ohio, the sport's climb into formal territory among kids isn't taken as severely. Since 2021, when the Mentor-based Northeast Ohio Flag Football division was created, fans and teachers alike have advocated for the sport's designation as a "sanctioned varsity sport" within the Ohio High School Athletic Association, the leading state body of its kind. Eleven other states already sanction the sport.

Numerous sports organizations have pushed for OHSAA's recognition since, from the Mentor High School to the Cleveland Browns.

"In order to become an emerging sport," a Browns' pamphlet on the subject reads, "the sport itself must function and run solely on its own, without additional financial support, before it can be considered."

At the Muny League, which is heavily subsidized by grants from the city of Cleveland and $30,000 annually from the Browns — a number councilman Mike Polensek called embarrassingly low — there are intentions of bringing both girls and boys flag football further into the mainstream.

And of course a kind of jumping off point for Jason Dunn, Muny's director of sports. He sees the region's explosion in high school girls club teams—from 27 in the 2023 season to 51 teams this season—as a marker of things to come.

"But to sustain that [growth] long term, you have to have a feeder," Dunn said. "And we're going to be that feeder. We want to do our part in Northeast Ohio."

Both Dunn and Green said that the girls' flag teams will start shortly after the summer tackle season ends in September.
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Mark Oprea

Mark Oprea is a staff writer at Scene. For the past seven years, he's covered Cleveland as a freelance journalist, and has contributed to TIME, NPR, the Pacific Standard and the Cleveland Magazine. He's the winner of two Press Club awards.
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