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Falcons nominate 1st girls flag football coach for Don Shula award

It’s a milestone as we strive toward gender equality in sports.

The Atlanta Falcons have been at the forefront in helping develop girls flag football from the very beginning. Another milestone in helping bridge the gap for gender equality in high school sports has been reached.

On Wednesday, Jan. 19, the Falcons announced that Zach Corcoran, the head coach of the girls flag football program at St. Anne-Pacelli Catholic Shool, would be their 2021 high school coach of the year. Not only is this the first time Atlanta has nominated a girls flag football coach for this award but it is also a first in the history of the Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year Award.

The Falcons became the first team in league history to win the Don Shula award in back-to-back years, nominating the eventual winner in both 2019 and 2020. Should Corcoran win the overall award, it would be yet another historic moment for the Falcons and the development of flag football in the state of Georgia.

In 2018, the team fully funded the state’s first-ever pilot program for girls flag football, which took place across all 19 high schools in Gwinnett County. The next year, five additional counties followed Gwinnett’s lead and established girls flag football programs with assistance from the Falcons.

The success of those pilot programs ultimately led to the Georgia High School Association sanctioning girls flag football as an official sport in 2020.

Corcoran has been an advocate for the development of the sport in his own right. After attending Georgia Southern University for his undergraduate studies, Corcoran earned his master’s degree in teaching at Columbus State University. He returned to his alma mater in 2017 as the girls high school soccer coach and began to lobby for a girls flag football team at St. Anne-Pacelli Catholic School once the state sanctioned it as an official sport.

While in the midst of a pandemic, Corcoran helped launch his school’s flag football team. Under his leadership, the team earned a 6-3-1 record and won a regional championship in its first season.

Corcoran built upon that great start with an even better season in 2021. The Lady Vikings raided their competition and rolled to a 14-2 record. St. Anne-Pacelli repeated as regional champs and made an appearance in the GHSA state semi-finals.

“To find someone as passionate as he is for teaching and coaching sports, he really is special,” St. Anne-Pacelli Athletic Director Corry Black said, according to a team press release. “He’s just a gem. You can’t find anybody that does what he does.”

The Falcons hope to continue the growth of girls flag football in the state of Georgia and seek to be a stimulator of similar growth around the country. Coaches like Corcoran, who see the benefit of equality in sports at the high school level, are vital to making this change at the grassroots level.

His leadership inspired one of his students to create a youth flag football camp of her very own – a budding coach’s tree, perhaps. Not only did Corcoran lend a hand in making that camp successful but the entire Lady Vikings roster volunteered to help run the show.

“He shows leadership and honestly is just a well-rounded, genuine person that is loved by everyone,” assistant coach Matt Aldrich said. “I don’t know anyone who has anything bad to say about Coach Corcoran.”

Corcoran’s impact goes far beyond the football field. During the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he conducted a virtual field day to encourage his students – and their families – to get out of the house and get some exercise. Following their coach’s lead, the Lady Vikings accompanied Corcoran to volunteer and distributed food to families in need at the Columbus Food Bank and Assistance Center.

That’s just one example of the, well, example that Coach Corcoran sets for his athletes, who are also active participants in on-campus initiatives.

This isn’t the first time Corcoran has used flag football to make the world a better place. More than a decade ago, he founded the Turkey Bowl, which is an annual flag football tournament that raises funds to help local charities. The Turkey Bowl is still up and waddling, and Corcoran both played on a team this past year and officiated some of the games. Oh, he also ran the whole thing.

If girls are going to continue to receive the opportunity to play on the gridiron, it’s going to take a lot more people like Coach Corcoran. The Falcons are doing their best to continue to raise awareness of the sport’s advancements in their own state, but they are also encouraging other teams to become leaders in their local communities.

Georgia became the fourth state to officially sanction girls flag football at the high school level, but the Falcons aren’t content to settle with the progress they’ve made. This past year, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics held their first-ever Women’s Flag Football Finals at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“We are thrilled to host the inaugural NAIA’s Women’s Flag Football Finals and NAIA Flag Showcase at Mercedes-Benz Stadium,” Falcons president and CEO Rich McKay told the team’s website at the time. Our organization has seen the appetite and enthusiasm for women’s flag football first-hand at the high school level in both Georgia and Alabama, and we are excited to see it grow on the collegiate level as well.”

By nominating Corcoran as the Atlanta Falcons Coach of the Year and making him their nominee for the Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year, the team is sending a clear message that flag football deserves the same consideration as tackle football.

In Corcoran, they couldn’t have a better advocate.

“He’s the most honest, trustworthy guy that I have been around,” said Aldrich. “He’s the reason I am coaching girls flag football. He helped me transition to St. Anne-Pacelli and truly showed me the workings of this sport.”