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March, 2024

Women's HERstory Month Feature Story:

THE Trailblazers: The First U.S. Women’s National Flag Team

As Women’s HERstory month comes to a close, it’s time we share the story of the females in flag football “O.G.’s” here in the United States: The 2008 Women’s National Team. We begin with a brief history of IFAF (International Federation of American Football) which was founded in 1998 and is considered the global governing body of flag and tackle football.

The IFAF Flag Football World Championship has been held in various locations around the world since 2002 where it was hosted by Austria that first year. Israel hosted the most recent event in 2021. The biannual competition has been held on various continents including France, Sweden and Italy (Europe), South Korea (Asia) and Panama (Central America).

Sometime in the Spring of 2008 – to our understanding - IFAF asked USA Football to enter a women’s (and men’s) team in the IFAF Flag Football World Championship to be hosted by Canada in St.-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, Quebec from July 25-27, 2008. USA Football leadership agreed that it was time to join their neighbors to the north and set foot in this internationally emerging sport and in what better way than on a global stage.

The reality of this incredible opportunity was that USA Football had a short window of time to pull the teams together. It wasn’t realistic to plan and coordinate a nationwide tryout. Weighing in various factors, including proximity, flag football playing experience, and a reputation for professionalism both on and off the field, USA Football reached out to Andra Douglas, longtime flag player and owner of the New York Sharks Women’s Tackle Football Team. They asked her to serve as the women’s national Team Manager and assemble a team. The honor of this request was beyond humbling. She accepted and appointed two coaches who held tryouts within the Sharks organization and ultimately selected the 12-player roster that became the VERY FIRST women’s flag team to represent the United States.

The O.G.’s of the 2008 U.S. Women’s National team!!

USA Football Liaison: Jack Reed
Team Manager: Andra Douglas
Coaches: Richie Scarpa and Lynn Lewis
NFL Representative: Samantha Rapoport

Jennifer Blum
Fatima Carvey
Jay “J.D.” Dantzler
Leslie Dock
Lisa Doran
Yvonne Harrison
Brooke McKinney
Karen Mulligan
Lauren Pringle
Adrienne Smith
Dana Sparling
Donna Spilotras


With plenty of practices under their "flag belts” and ready to take on the world, the team loaded into two vans and made the 7 hour drive north a couple of days before the Opening Ceremony was set to kick off for the ONLY international tournament of its kind in the world. The other countries represented that year in the women’s division were: Canada, Mexico, Austria, Japan and defending champions, France.

In the end, the trailblazing women of that first ever U.S. National Team came away with a 4th place finish after losing (19-13) to reigning champions, France, in the bronze medal game.

The U.S. Women’s team has won either gold or silver in 5 of the 6 events that have taken place since 2008. The next IFAF World Flag Championships will be held this summer, August 22-30, 2024 in Lahti, Finland at the Pajulahti Olympic Training Center. Heading into this year’s event, Mexico holds the #1 spot for the most gold medals overall with three. The U.S. is tied with Canada for 2nd place with two golds. Sweden, France and Panama are all tied with 1 gold medal.

Flag football has become one of, if not THE fastest growing sport in the world. History was made in the Fall of 2023 when the IOC (Int’l Olympic Committee) unanimously voted to make flag football an Olympic sport beginning. Its debut will take place at the 2028 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Of meaningful significance to so many of us from previous generations of female flag players is that 2028 will mark exactly 20 years since the inaugural women’s flag team represented the U.S. in 2008. The torch has been passed to an incredibly talented pool of female flag athletes playing the game today. We know you’ll make those of us who came before you – and your country – very proud.

Good luck to the USA Football National Team and all of the teams from around the world who will be participating this August in Finland!!

Special thanks to Jack Reed, Andra Douglas and Karen Mulligan for their contributions to this story.

 -  D. Sparling, Executive Director, WGF


* IFAF -Wikipedia

IFAF World Flag Championships

IFAF Website


Shannon Eastin's Story

Available anywhere books are sold online


The tailblazing, SHANNON EASTIN, has published a great read that chronicles her journey through the male-dominated world of American football officiating. Hers is an inspiring story of perseverance and persistence.

Thank you for asking us to read and review the book, Shannon. Our foundation and I hope it flies off of the tangible and digital shelves!!!

-- Dana Sparling


Women's Tackle Herstory made in China:
The Mulan Bowl & Training Camp

Xiaojing Zhang
Minmin Zhao

September 14, 2023

A first ever event of it's kind was held in the country of China from August 25-27, 2023 in the city of Tianjin. The Mulan Bowl and Training Camp was held in Dajili Stadium and the format was very similar to that of the Women's World Football Games (WWFG) which was held in various NFL practice venues for 4 consecutive years from 2015 - 2018. That event was the brainchild of Samantha Rapoport - our very first Game Changer recipient back in 2016.


Minmin Zhao, one of the organizers of the Mulan Bowl, participated in WWFG and has been inspired ever since to bring an event like this to the young girls in her home country of China. Xiaojing Zhang was the "initiator" of the Mulan Bowl and together with Minmin, they made their dream of creating a space for women to learn and play tackle football - with other women. Minmin states that her "goal is to spark greater interest in starting up women’s teams around the country to allow for those who play – the vast majority of whom are only “training” with men’s teams – to instead play on all-women’s teams. Those who practice with the men’s teams have only rare opportunities to play on gameday due to the obvious risk of serious injury. Playing on a women’s team would change all of that.”


Over 45 female players – ages 18 – older – were coached up on basic position techniques, ran through skill group training, had chalkboard sessions, scrimmaged and learned the playbook for the final game that was held on Sunday.


Very impressive is the fact that the organizers managed to secure enough sponsorship from local corporations and businesses to hold event the for FREE to the participants AND include lodging and meals throughout the entire weekend.


2023 Mulan Bowl and Training Camp Coaching Staff

Head Coach / Defensive Coordinator: Xin Xu (Zhuhai)

Offensive Coordinator & Wide Receivers: Zhen Ma (Shanghai)

QB’s:  Wengang Xia (Guangzhou)

Defensive Backs: Kaijie Xia (Hangzhou)

Linebackers: Keda Liu (Beijing)

Special Teams: Wei Cao (Beijing)

Running Backs: Minmin Zhao  (Sweden)

Offensive Line: Guri Su (Inner Mongolia)


Minmin is passionate about this game, just as we are here at the Women’s Gridiron Foundation. She also understands the incredible opportunity that exists for girls/women to gain confidence and positive self-esteem by way of learning how to play this amazing game that gives back so much to those who give it their all.


A few more thoughts from Minmin:

“This is the first time that Chinese girls were able train and compete together in their own country. In just three days, I witnessed such incredible perseverance, hard work, and passion. The girls learned many new things from our coaching staff and I watched this deepen their love for the game right before my eyes.”


“We are committed to holding this training camp and competition on a consistent basis so Chinese girls can learn the game more systematically and improve themselves continuously. In that vein we have already begun preparing for next year’s event and will share more details soon!”


Congratulations, Minmin and Xiaojing, on a very successful first event. We support you in your continued efforts to expand the growth of the women’s game in China and are honored that you chose us to share this HERstory with our supporters and followers.


- Dana Sparling

WGF Executive Director

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Coin Toss.jpg
February, 2023

Herstory Made in Norway

Coach Jenny Widding.jpg

The Football Story of Jenny Widding


Our foundation is proud to introduce second season Head Coach, Jenny Widding, who is - to the best of our knowledge - the VERY FIRST FEMALE HEAD COACH, OF A MEN’S TACKLE FOOTBALL TEAM, IN THE WORLD, TO WIN A NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP.

Hailing from the beautiful country of Norway, the Eidsvoll 1814’s championship mission was achieved on October 16th of this year - in a thrilling overtime finish - with a final score of 35-28.

The organization was founded by Kenneth Anderson in 1995.  They won their first D1 championship in 2001, another in 2013, and their most recent, with Coach Widding at the helm. The 1814’s are members of the NAIF. Their name is taken from the signing of the Constitution of Norway at Eidsvoll in 1814.


Here’s a bit more about Coach Jenny Widding’s journey to achieving HERstory…..

Jenny was first introduced to football in 1995 by a friend, in the country in which she grew up: Sweden. Women's tackle football teams didn’t exist at that time so Jenny followed and learned the (men’s) game from the sidelines and also practiced with them at times.

Fast forward 20 years to 2015: Jenny moved to Norway and became involved with the 1814’s when her children started playing football. Since that time, she has coached all age-groups within the organization. She loves the “mix between tactics, the x's and o's and the strength and athletic (ability) it takes to execute on the field.” Coach Widding believes “there’s no room for big egos,” especially in a game like football, where working together as a team is so essential to the successful execution of plays." The time and dedication it takes to be a good player and/or coach makes the dynamic within the team unique and that's something I've never found in any other team sport I've been involved with,” she says.

Jenny decided to put on the pads and play alongside women in 2017, when she was invited to coach at a training camp for the only woman's team in Norway at that time - the Vålerenga Trolls. Jenny admitted that she “put on the cleats and pads, mostly to show myself that I wasn’t too old to play!” In 2019, she “had the privilege of playing in the Swedish superserie (Super Series) with the Carlstad Crusaders” and together, they won a national championship.

Walking a mile in a player’s cleats, while time well spent, Coach Widding’s true love has always been coaching and teaching this incredible game. She is passionate about supporting players as they develop both their football skills and their life skills. Many of her current D1 Senior Elite players are those she has coached since they were young boys (11 and under). Jenny considers it an absolute privilege to have been a part of their lives for so many years. She is wholeheartedly committed to their overall personal development.

Offensive Coordinator Kris Ceballos , is in his third year with the 1814’s, and just finished out his first season in the OC role at the Elite Level (AND as a National Champion let’s no less)!! He’s been coaching with the organization in an official capacity since 2012. His first reaction to hearing that Jenny would be the next HC was, "This is the right choice! “I had been waiting for this news for a long time. Jenny has been a part of the group for many years and the team knows what kind of person and coach she is, so in a way we'd all been waiting for this news.” He also shared with us that, “there really is no difference in coaching alongside a man or a woman. Coach Jenny has the same qualities as other male coaches and some different approaches that make her a unique coach. She's proven that by winning the Norwegian Championship.” Kris adds that she brings so much to the table: “efficiency in all she does,” structure, she anticipates, is proactive, “and detail oriented in all of aspects” of the game including “off/preseason programs, teaching leadership and sports mentality.”


According to center Richard Queen – a U.S. D1 full scholarship American Import – “Jenny is extremely organized and does everything she can for the team, and that is exactly what a HC needs to do. When I found out from her – after she spoke to all of the players - that she was taking over as the HC, it was very natural. I knew she wanted the best for the team and I was excited to have a coach that really cared and wanted to win." “Jenny makes us work hard and takes no bull***t. She pushes us as a coach should.”

Coach Widding shared with me that the 1814’s earned their recent national championship title because every single person bought in to the mentality of doing whatever was best for the TEAM. Short-handed on coaches at the beginning of the season, Jenny stepped up as the HC in the opening game and the rest is HERstory. The opportunity to go to the next level isn’t always wrapped in a pretty package, but she chose to leap – without doubting herself or over-thinking it – and the “net appeared.” Jenny has had the respect of her players and from Day #1 and successfully drove home the message that playing every snap - no matter the score – as well as playing for the person next to you rather than yourself, could lead them to a winning season. Her players listened, bought in, and delivered on that message in epic fashion.

Jenny admitted to me that she is actually quite shy and doesn’t like any attention focused on her. Having said that, we agreed on the importance of sharing her story for the sake of the next generation of girls who can aspire to follow in her groundbreaking footsteps.

We say, “Here-Here” to another, beautiful round of “If you see her, you can BE her.”

Thank you for sharing your journey with us, Coach Widding. Congratulations to you, your coaching staff and your players on your 2022 Norwegian Championship Title. We wish you continued successful growth and a great 2023 season ahead!!


-- Dana Sparling

WGF Executive Director

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