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Transformative potential of girls' flag football on display at Commanders' Nike Kickoff Classic initiative

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Morgan was nervous as the Nike Girls Kickoff Classic scrimmage got ready to start on Friday.

"She was visibly shaking before getting on the field," said Morgan's coach for the day, Lois Cook. "She had her hands up to her face and she told me, like 'Oh my god, I'm so scared.'"

Not long after the Richmond, Virginia, high schooler got the ball though, her whole demeanor changed.

"She was the first one to score a touchdown, and you could see the difference," Cook said. "Just this the progression from where she started to the end of the game where she was full of energy. You could tell her confidence was up. It was amazing to see."

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The moment offered a window into the power of girl's and women's sport, a cause at the heart of Nike "Play Football" initiative and one that is close to the Commanders. In collaboration with Nike and the NFL, the Commanders hosted a flag football practice and scrimmage for middle school and high school girls from Richmond Public Schools (RPS) to celebrate the kickoff of high school season and showcase the life-changing values that football can instill.

Anyone involved in football knows that looking the part is key. Understanding that, Nike, with the helping hand of Commanders players, gifted the participating girls with custom-made jerseys.

"That was such a moment of excitement," Cook said. "And it was mutual. It wasn't just the girls who were getting the swag. It was the guys [Commanders players] that that were able to present it to them."

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The enthusiasm from Carson Wentz, Terry McLaurin, Logan Thomas and the other players in attendance carried over from the jersey reveal into the practice and scrimmage.

"I loved the players getting hype and the investment from the Commanders that were there. They were all in," Cook said. "Every moment, there was someone jumping in whether it was at center and how to snap a ball or lining up as a receiver."

As the time for the scrimmage approached, the emotion coming from the players didn't look that far off from the ones you'd see on their own gameday. They fervently disagreed if a call didn't go a certain way and celebrated raucously after a nice play. Head Coach Ron Rivera, a girl dad who noted how "very important" it was for the team to host the activation, was also right there in the mix.

"I just really appreciated him being present and kind of engaging with the girls as well," Cook said. "That spoke volumes…just letting them know that they're important. I think that's really a statement that was made."

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It's that kind of care and investment that not only helps flag football grow as a sport, but also helps girls see that they belong in this game. With the opportunity to play and that feeling of meaningful inclusion, girls are able to benefit from the transformative experience playing football can be.

"The biggest thing for me I see is the confidence factor. You think about everything young kids have to go through as far as their self-esteem," Cook said. "When girls are able to step out on the field and do something that's a little bit different that they maybe thought was something they couldn't do, it definitely boosts their self-esteem, and develops their confidence which they can then of course use throughout their entire lives."

For Dr. Stephanie Ramsey, the Director of Athletics for Richmond Public Schools, the word "gratitude" kept coming to her mind throughout Friday's event as she watched the RPS girls running around with the players, looked on as one of her student broadcasters got to ask a question to Co-Owner and Co-CEO Tanya Snyder about what it was like to be one of only female Co-Owners in the NFL and, at the end of the event, when she was gifted a $10,000 check to be put towards the RPS programming.

"There was just this good aura around the whole day," Ramsey said. "It just felt amazing coming together and seeing the difference that it makes for our kids and community."

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