This high school girls flag football team is simply unbeatable
November 10, 2022
You would never guess this is a first-time flag football team. They aren’t choppy, or slow. This wasn’t a building year.
No, for the Willowbrook High School girls flag football program in Villa Park, Illinois, this was about paving a path, creating a legacy.
And they did just that—going undefeated in their regular season and taking home the first-ever Illinois Girls Flag Football State Championship hosted by the Chicago Bears. Their next stop? Regionals in Ohio.
“I’m having the most fun I’ve had in all my high school years,” says Rimon Kari, a senior on the team who plays wide receiver and safety. “The energy we have is like a family now. It’s been easy to adjust to a brand new sport.”
When Rachel Karos, a teacher and diversity and inclusion coordinator at Willowbrook High School, heard there was an opportunity to start a girls flag football program, she knew her school had to say yes.
“We felt really strongly that this was going to be a good sport for us,” she says. “We didn’t want to just do this for fun—we wanted to treat it as a varsity sport.”
Karos has played flag football for several years and became co-head coach of the team, alongside Nick Hildreth. When they kicked off their program with a camp during the summer, only one player had previous flag football experience.
“It was like a blank slate,” says Coach Hildreth. “You’re taking a group of athletes who had never really played and building off that—and I think that’s really cool to see.”
Sarah Ball, a senior and wide receiver on the team (whose play caught the attention of Chicago Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney), says she’s grateful for the opportunity, as she’s always wanted to play football growing up.
“We’re all learning the sport together, which is amazing,” she says. “We’re all starting at the same level and progressing together as a team.”
Chicago Public League Girls Flag Football originally launched in 2021 by the Chicago Bears and CPS, featuring 22 teams, with more than 400 girls participating.
By 2022, the program more than doubled in size expanding to two new conferences, one in the Rockford area and the other in the western suburbs, where Willowbrook High School plays. Today, there are a total of 78 girls flag football high school programs in Illinois. In other words, this sport is taking off.
“What I love about this game is that it’s so inclusive to so many body types and speeds—there’s really a spot for everyone,” said Karos. “I don’t think any school will have problems filling teams.”
As for the future? The Chicago Bears aim to make the program a sanctioned IHSA sport by 2024. And at Willowbrook High School, there’s no doubt that the future of flag football is female.
“So many younger girls are watching and already want to be a part of this,” says Ball.
Coach Karos agrees: “I think it’s going to be huge and tough to slow down.”
You can follow the team on Twitter as they prep for their Regional competition in Ohio on Nov. 13.