Both times, the game-winning touchdown was delivered to the back corner of the end zone. Neither one offered an inch to spare.

Oh, the perks of playing on a big stage. Let Vanita Krouch, the starting quarterback for the U.S. in the women’s flag football competition at the World Games, explain.

“Honestly, we play (local flag leagues) year around, right, and our end zone is about five or six yards,” Krouch said. “This is luxury to have 10-yard end zones. I’ve made the focus of my teammates to say, ‘We’ve got to utilize these 10 yards and get to the back. They can’t cover that. I have such speedy people if they break out on that route, you’re going to pay.”

Krouch delivered a perfectly placed strike on the game-winning throws. Both times Joann Overstreet made the catch for the final touchdown of the game. Each one came on a fourth-down play. Put all that together and the U.S. women are at the top of the pool play standings following a 31-25 victory over Panama and a 27-21 triumph over Austria at Legion Field.

It was just a small slice of what was a historical first day of flag football at its highest level. On Saturday, Pierre Trochet, the president of the International Federation of American Football, promised a good show for the folks of Birmingham and other fans in attendance.

“This is a milestone for flag football and an opportunity to demonstrate that the sport belongs on a global stage,” Trochet said in a news release by The World Games media relations. “Every player here in Birmingham is a world-class athlete. The Games will allow new audiences to discover just how exciting, competitive and international flag football is at the highest level. It will also be a chance for us to show how well flag fits in a multi-sport environment - and everything we can bring to the Games, on and off the field, as a sports and entertainment concept." 

On Sunday, the players delivered on that promise in a tournament that is presented in partnership by the NFL and IFAF.

The U.S. women and Austrian men are the lone teams to open with two victories. The U.S. men’s team played just once on Sunday, beating France, 38-13 behind four touchdown passes by Darrell Doucette, two touchdown catches apiece by Laderrick Smith and Bruce Mapp and the pass rush of Geoffrey Bean, who kept quarterbacks off balance all game.

Each player has their own journey to reach this point. The one that Overstreet and Krouch took in the women's game is probably not uncommon, even though the neighborhood is different. They live in the same Dallas neighborhood. Both are outstanding athletes. Both played college basketball – Overstreet at Houston and Krouch at SMU. Both were searching for a new athletic outlet when they began playing flag football.

Overstreet actually played tackle football in middle school, lining up at running back, quarterback, safety and kick returner, but her mother wouldn’t let her continue in high school. She turned to basketball and was one of the top-ranked high jumpers in Texas during high school.

Both Overstreet and Krouch are physical education teachers. They found flag football together. They began by playing in local leagues and branched out by traveling to tournaments in Mexico. Much of the time, Krouch said, they played against men.

“Funny story, when I first started playing quarterback, when I got tricked into it, I could barely make it 15 yards,” Krouch said. “I called plays that utilized my 15 yards strength. Just over time, playing against men – bigger, faster, stronger – I just got to be smarter. A brain is not a gender difference.”

However, her arm strength grew, partly because she was using the heavier, full-size football utilized in the men’s game. The women’s game uses a youth-size football, and it was in 2018 before she used that in a tournament. She asked if she could use the bigger size football but was denied.

“Youth ball was so light to me that I was throwing it from end zone to end zone,” Krouch said. “I was like, ‘Y’all just created a monster.”

Overstreet said a big part of her success is the way she trains.

“In my area, where I train at, A+ D-1, is run by (NFL veterans) Von Miller and Aquib Talib,” said Overstreet, who added the gym’s regulars include several NFL and college players. “I get the opportunity to watch them. I sit in there and literally study their workouts – their drops, their route running. I watch the intensity. Their intensity is way higher than what you see on TV. When you see it live, I understand how they are so great because how they work out. With me watching them work out, I try to match their intensity.’'

On Sunday, Krouch threw nine touchdown passes in two games. Five of those scoring strikes came to Overstreet, three were connections with Shenieka Adger-Comice, and Crystal Daniels caught the other one.

That type of production needs to continue for the Americans to have continued success in the tournament. However, in one way, each one of the competitors is already a winner with the NFL involvement in flag football.

“It means a lot, especially for us females,” Overstreet said. “Having that (NFL logo) here on the field and have it representing us as females, we are being recognized. It’s been a long time coming, I’ve been playing for 12-plus years. We’ve always fought to be noticed. We’ve always fought to get on a bigger stage. We played in all these local tournaments, but nobody noticed us. When they do see us now, they say ‘You guys need to be playing on TV. We need to have to find a way to watch you.’ That’s a great feeling.”

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