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Take Five with Juliana Zavala: Senior Manager of Elementary Sports

01 March 2024

Juliana is a champion for girls flag football.

Headshot of Juliana Zavala

Take Five is a series that highlights some of the many members of the CPS community who are going above and beyond for our schools. If you know someone who is making a difference, nominate them to be featured here

Today is the first day of Women's History Month — a perfect time to celebrate the Illinois High School Association’s decision to sanction girls flag football as an official IHSA sport beginning in the fall of 2024. CPS’ very own Juliana Zavala, Senior Manager of Elementary Sports, played a huge role in bringing this new sport to the District, which makes now the ideal moment to feature her as well!

Raised in Chicago’s Little Village community, and a graduate of Gary Elementary and Kelly College Prep, Juliana has been passionate about athletics since she was a CPS student herself. In fact, she still vividly remembers all of her CPS coaches. After high school, Juliana went on to play Division I soccer at Louisiana’s Northwestern State University, and even coached at the collegiate level before returning to CPS to work in the Office of Sports Administration (OSA).

Together with the Chicago Bears, Juliana and OSA brought girls flag football to CPS in the fall of 2021. The response was both immediate and overwhelmingly positive. The program, which began with a pilot of 22 schools the first season, has now nearly tripled, with 58 teams currently playing girls flag football in CPS. Now that it is an official IHSA sport, girls flag football will be treated like every other sport, with the students playing a 2024 IHSA State Series beginning this fall.

“It’s been amazing seeing the incredible growth this opportunity has given the girls, not only in their careers as athletes, but also in their confidence,” said Juliana. “It goes way beyond flag football.”

Due in large part to her advocacy for girls flag football, Juliana recently received the Chicago Bears’ 2023 Inspire Change Changemaker Award. In addition to the recognition, this award came with $10,000 from the NFL Foundation, which Juliana turned into scholarships for students who will be playing women’s flag football in college.

How did you feel when you learned you were receiving the Inspire Change Changemaker Award?

I was so surprised, excited, and honored. Bringing girls flag football to CPS has been one of my proudest achievements, and it was really special to celebrate that and share it with my family. I’ll remember it forever.

Why are you passionate about promoting girls flag football?

First, the girls love it. The response has been just unbelievable, and seeing them get the opportunity to play this traditionally male sport has been amazing. I’m so excited to see them have a league of their own. Also, girls flag football is growing everywhere, and now students have the opportunity to play at the collegiate level, so I really wanted this option for our CPS students.

What advice do you have for students who are interested in playing girls flag football?

Take that risk. You will not regret it! Trying something new can be hard, but you’ll also make new friends, open yourself up to new possibilities, and become part of a community that loves the game of football. 

What is most rewarding about your work?

I love giving back and helping our students grow and learn life lessons like sportsmanship, dedication, and discipline. 

What do you like to do outside of work?

I am a triathlete, and one of my goals this year is to do a marathon and a half-Ironman. I also love watching sports and spending time with my family!

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