TAMPA, Fla. — This week, the Buccaneers are hosting the third Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation Girls Flag Football Preseason Classic. It runs Thursday through Saturday at the Tournament SportsPlex of Tampa.
It's the largest flag football tournament in the country, with 47 teams and 1,200 athletes from across the state of Florida. Twenty-one teams are from Hillsborough County and eight more are from Pinellas County.
The goal is to increase the level of inclusion for young women in the sport. The Super Bowl champs have two female assistant coaches on their staff. Lori Locust is the assistant defensive line coach, and Maral Javadifar is the assistant strength and conditioning coach.
Locust says she hopes having a woman on an NFL coaching staff isn't "a thing" in the years ahead. She wants organizations to make the right hires, so females can be set up for the same success as men.
"The culture that [Bucs head coach Bruce Arians] has set up, the support he gets from [Bucs co-owner Darcie Glazer Kassewitz] and the entire ownership group, I see that happening more and more with us," Locust said Thursday night. "When it's organic, it works. And clearly, you saw what diversity in a coaching staff can bring."
Javadifar "M.J.", as the team calls her, said she played flag football growing up in New York City, but she only played on co-ed teams that needed a girl to fill in the roster. Now she hopes tournaments like the Preseason Classic get bigger and bigger so more girls can follow their football dreams.
"It's spectacular. It's amazing to see," MJ said. "We continue to look and progress that number. Make 45 [teams] into 55, and 65. It's with the help of our organization and Darce that this has all been possible."
Brooke Maggio is a senior quarterback for Brooks DeBartolo High School. She comes from a family of Bucs fans, and she's excited to see female role models as leaders with her hometown team.
"Being Super Bowl champs, it's really cool," Maggio said before Thursday's first-round games. "They have so many different moving parts. They have so many different moving pieces. So many people that are behind the scenes that make all of that happen. You don't even see them, but they're definitely needed."
The Buccaneers Foundation sponsors a scholarship for female football players who want to pursue sports-related careers. They also fund a girls flag football league in Tampa, paying for league fees and providing equipment.