How MOJO helped one mom champion girls flag football in Kansas City
| 5 min read
8U girls with Sheila Sickau from the Kansas City Glory, from the first season of Girls Play Flag Football.
When Crystal Ford’s youngest child, Joy, was just 6, she wanted to play flag football with her best friend — a 9-year-old boy. They played together in an 8U league in Kansas City, where Joy was the only girl on the team, as well as one of the youngest players on the field.
In practice, Joy would have a blast. Her friend, one of the best players on the team, treated her like an equal. She told her mom she loved flag football.
But game-time was a different story.
“She would show up and be a wallflower,” says Ford. “Her words didn’t match her actions.”
That fall, when Joy asked to join a Chiefs Flag Football camp for girls, Ford was on the fence. “I thought, ‘Who knows, maybe this isn’t her thing.’”
But when the camp turned out to be a success, and there was talk of a full-fledged girls league — the first of its kind in Kansas City — Ford used the MOJO app to make Joy’s dream of playing flag a reality.
In August 2021, when the girl’s flag football league was still just an idea, the call for coaches went out.
“Of course, nobody wanted to volunteer,” laughs Ford.
At first, Ford’s husband stepped up. He had coached their three older children in soccer, track and flag football. But it wasn’t at all what he had expected.
“The very first day, he came back and said, ‘This isn’t going to work. They’re crying when their flag gets pulled. I don’t know how to coach these girls,’” she explains.
She understood why. He was coaching the way he had coached 12- and 14-year-old boys. “He said, ‘They’re just not understanding me. I can’t teach them zone.’”
So Ford said, I’ll do it.
“He said to me, ‘How are you going to do it?’” she laughs. “And I said, almost sarcastically, MOJO is going to teach me.”
Ford had heard about the MOJO app through Tomas Zepeda, who, along with his brother Miguel, founded Chiefs Flag Football in 2019. Tomas had learned about the app at the NFL FLAG Summit in Las Vegas in July 2021, a month before the sport officially launched on the app.
“I never played flag football. I knew I needed help. I was scared,” she says. “So I really used MOJO. I typed in everything that I needed to. I told all the parents, We’re going to use this. I literally developed my whole season [with the app].”
And in the end, says Ford, the team had a ton of fun. And more importantly, she adds, “Joy actually played — because she was with the girls.”
Now, as the president of Girls Play Flag Football (GPFF), the girls-only non-profit wing of Chiefs Flag Football, Ford is in a position to evangelize MOJO to the coaches who now follow in her footsteps.
“I understood the game of football, but not flag football,” says Ford. What she found, with the MOJO app, was a teaching tool that could turn novices into effective leaders.
“It’s curriculum,” Ford explains. “This was the toolset that could help propel you forward.”
Ford recognized the underpinnings of the MOJO flag football offering right away, from working with curriculum in previous roles, including as assistant director of a megachurch.
Her fellow coaches didn’t always see it right away. “That’s not what they think they’ve been given, but that’s what MOJO is,” says Ford. “Someone has already done the hard work. You just have to teach it.”
Now, when she onboards new flag football coaches to the MOJO app, she tells them, “This is like a syllabus. You can read it. You can watch it. It’s your secret to success.”
Ford is now in her fourth season with GPFF. And the explosive growth of girls flag football reminds her a bit of her own youth sports experience.
“I started as a parent, just interested in the sport, and learning quickly,” says Ford. “But I really identify with girls flag football. It’s emerging as a sport, making its way.”
She knows what it’s like to be part of a moment like this. When Ford was a teen, there was no girls soccer in the area — so she played on the high school boys team. Back then, in the early ‘90s, there were some pilot programs with the Kansas City Comets, an indoor soccer league. Occasional clinics. “I played on an all-girls team one time,” explains Ford. “And now we have the Kansas City Current. Girls flag football has that potential, too.”
The girls at GPFF feel it, too. GPFF took three teams to the NFL FLAG Pro Bowl in February of this year — 10UG, 12UG and 14UG. There, the girls competed with teams from around the world — and it made a serious impression.
“To go to the Pro Bowl, that vision is something you can’t explain unless you’re there,” says Ford. “They came back different. They really want to compete. It’s not just a just-for-fun sport to them anymore.”
As the Spring 2023 season winds down, the GPFF 12UG team, in particular, is currently undefeated. Ford can’t wait to see what the girls do next.