ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF)– High School football isn’t just for boys anymore. The girls now have a league of their own. The Northern Illinois Girls Flag Football League kicked off last Saturday in Rockford.

The league’s home is Clarence Hicks Memorial Park on Rockford’s southwest side by RESA Middle School.
There are six teams representing the four District 205 high schools and a co-op team called the Cougars that includes girls from Belvidere, Harlem, Boylan and Huntley.

The girls who opened up the season last Saturday told me they were thrilled when they learned last spring about the league starting up this fall.

“I was very excited, because my dad won’t let me play tackle,” said Harlem freshman Giada Nowling who plays for the Co-Op Cougars. “I had to do something. I’ve loved football for a long time.”

Mariah Williams is a freshman who plays for Rockford East’s team. She told me she has never played organized football before this.
“Not on a team, but I’ve played with my brothers in our yard.”

Madison King a Harlem student also plays for the Co-op Cougars. “I used  to play with my brothers in the back yard and all that stuff, so it’s like, ‘Okay, football!!”

The Northern Illinois Flag Football League is 7-on-7. It’s overseen by the Rockford Park District. This past spring the Chicago Bears charitable arm, Bears Care, invested $65,000 in the league. NIKE provided uniforms.

The turnout of girls has been good for a first year. More than 130 girls signed up. East’s team had 19 girls in uniform for the first game, and more want to play.

(Girls shouting)

“We’re supposed to have two teams,” said East coach Terrence Peterson, “So with that being said, I think we have 44 girls registered to play football, just a couple of them didn’t get cleared right away, so what we’re waiting on is just getting those numbers. We do have a second set of jerseys, so we’re looking to put together our JV team too.”

Nick Corrigan, the Rockford Park District’s Recreation Coordinator for Youth is also the head coach of the Co-Op Cougars. “The girls really want to play, and they come out here, they have the passion for it. It’s going to be big.”

I asked Belvidere Sophomore and Cougars player Zoe Gehrke what’s the most challenging part of playing NFL Flag Football.

“Probably playing both offense and defense, and also remembering what plays to run,” says with her teammates laughing behind her.  

How many plays does coach Corrigan have?

“Like 17. Probably 16 or 17,” said Gehrke.

“Yea 17 plays,” said Corrigan. “It might have been a lot. I’m not going to lie”

 A pick-six decided this game between East and the Cougars. Harlem student Madison King got an interception and returned it to the house with four minutes to play giving the Co-op Cougars a 12-6 win over East.

“I was literally guarding them and then out of nowhere the ball just came straight to me,” said King, “And I was like, okay, I’ll catch it and I’ll run towards it.”

“Man the energy was there today,” said Corrigan. “The effort was there. It was incredible for both teams.”

“It was a lot of fun,” said Nowling. “I’m really proud of my teammates.”

There will be playoffs at the end of the season, and the champion of the Northern Illinois League will head to Halas Hall, the home of the Bears for the state playoffs against teams from Chicago and the Chicago suburbs.

NOTE: Any high school girls in the Rockford area interested in playing in the Northern Illinois Girls Flag Football League should contact the athletic director at their high schools.