RALEIGH, N.C. — A new women’s high school flag football league started this year in Raleigh.

The Carolina Panthers recently partnered with Wake County Public Schools as a part of the pilot program, and about 20 schools in Wake County are participating. Teams will begin league play this Saturday.

What You Need To Know

  • The Wake County Public School System and the Carolina Panthers created a new women’s high school flag football league

  •  Twenty high school teams will start league play Jan. 27 as part of the program’s inaugural season

  • The program is designed to give female student-athletes increased access and opportunities to play flag football in high school 

  • Carolina Panthers charities provided $50,000 in program funding 

This is new to Wake County, but it’s a part of a growing trend in North Carolina and the country. The Panthers have partnered with Charlotte- Mecklenburg Schools, Cabarrus County Schools and Union County Public Schools in the past too.

As of right now, at least eight states have sanctioned flag football as a girls high school sport.

One of the girls who will be playing in this league is Alexis Mmbaya, a junior at Heritage High School. Alexis is excited for this opportunity to play flag football, an experience that not all girls may get in high school.

“Most girls do want to play football, but it’s only girls that play it, and we can’t tackle, but maybe next year, it’s fun,” Mmbaya said.

Mmbaya’s enthusiasm is heard loud and clear on the field. She enjoys cheering on her teammates.

“We are all a team, we all communicate, we all hype each other up, and when nobody’s hyping each other up, I yell, yea, you gotta yell,” Alexis said.

Flag football has been on the rise for some time with women-specific teams and leagues popping up all over, according to the Associated Press. Research by USA Football said since 2014 there has been a 34% increase in flag football participation among girls age 6 to 17.

The new pilot program with the Carolina Panthers and Wake County Public Schools is designed to provide female student athletes with increased access and opportunities to get involved in this growing high school sport. It’s an experience that Alexis said is a game changer and one she hopes she can continue to participate in.

“It’s not just a team, it’s a new team to like history, you’re making history basically,” Mmbaya said. “It’s good, women are still up, girls support girls, and you know, the boys are really excited too. It’s not just like a girls excited thing, everybody’s just excited.”

Panthers Charities provided $50,000 in grant funding and Nike uniforms for each of the 20 participating schools to help support the program. The schools will play at Athens Drive High School Saturday. They will play again on Feb. 3 and then there will be a league championship tournament on Feb. 10.