SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Youth-level football is widely regarded as an important part of Utah sports culture. Utahns might not know much, however, about the Utah Girls Tackle Football league that held its championship games at Rice-Eccles Stadium last weekend.
ABC4’s digital team spoke with Kammi Bilanzich and Shawn Goetz, coaches of the West Jordan Lightning elementary and high school division teams respectively.
Bilanzich started out involved in the league as a player in its second season. She had previously played tackle football with the boys, which she described as “tough” due to different body types. After playing in the Utah Girls league, she says she “was addicted to girls tackle football” and wanted to come back and play again.
When she turned 18, Bilanzich started coaching instead of leaving the league entirely. “More and more girls are involved in playing,” continues Bilanzich. “Schools don’t offer what we do yet,” says Bilanzich, describing how most girls don’t have to pay more than $150-$200 to get involved in the league.
When asked why girls should be able to play tackle football, Bilanzich says that girls “want to be able to hit.” “How many guys play flag football?” she asks rhetorically. Bilanzich says the sport is a good outlet for girls who may be facing challenges at school, at home, or in their families.
“I’ve seen girls who play tackle football better than some boys,” says Bilanzich. Her team, the West Jordan Lightning elementary division, won its championship game for their division on Saturday.
Sean Goatz is the current president of the league and head coach of the West Jordan Lightning high school division team. The West Jordan Lightning won its championship game at the Rice-Eccles Stadium on May 21. Goatz says he and the team arrived at the stadium early to “enjoy and absorb” the experience of playing at a college-level arena. “The ability to be there and play there was amazing for them,” says Goatz.
Goatz got involved in the first year of the league when his daughter expressed interest in playing. He says the first season had about 50 girls involved who played three or four games total that season.
Goatz says this season had over 600 girls involved in the league, which is their biggest year yet. He says the league allows girls to play against fair competition in the “number one sport in the country.”
Goatz’s favorite part of his role as president and coach is working with the girls, who he describes as consistently “enthusiastic, happy, and competitive.” He says coaching girls in tackle football is mostly the same as coaching boys, but does admit the girls he has coached have generally been better listeners than boys.
When asked what he wants Utahns to know about the league, Goatz says, “This is a sport and an opportunity that we should grow in Utah.” He believes high school football is “coed in name only,” and is only labeled as such so that schools can avoid offering actual female tackle football programs.
“It’s the most physical sport and it’s called coed,” protests Goatz, indicating how sports that are less physical like tennis and golf usually offer male and female programs at the high school level.
Goatz and the league are already planning another season for the league to continue. He said he wants to acknowledge their sponsor, Under Armor, especially in their role of securing Rice-Eccles Stadium for the championship games.