As one of the most important and accomplished teams in the modern history of female football, 2015 represents the landmark 15th anniversary of the DC Divas. Only the Minnesota Vixen and the New York Sharks have been in existence longer among female football teams in the United States. In their first 14 seasons, the Divas have assembled a remarkable win-loss record of 98-35.
Founded in 2000, they were one of ten charter franchises that composed the National Women’s Football Association. Enjoying their first undefeated season in 2004, they would follow it up with a charity game against a men’s team, setting a record (since broken) for the highest attendance at a female football game. The jubilation of their first national championship would occur in 2006 with a 28-7 triumph against the Oklahoma City Lightning, resulting in Rachelle Pecovsky earning MVP honors and a write-up in Sports Illustrated. In addition, Pecovsky would add to her Divas legacy by shattering the team record for most touchdowns in one game, by running for daylight five times on just nine carriers, part of a 76-0 whitewash of the Harrisburg Angels.
Over the seasons, another competitor that has played a role of prominence in the history of the franchise is Donna Wilkinson. A charter member, her gridiron legacy has only solidified her standing as one of the finest female athletes to have competed in the nation’s capital. Having spoken at Georgetown University about the role of women in sport, Wilkinson has also met the real-life female softball players that inspired the 1992 film. “A League of Their Own.” Also a television personality, she was a sports analyst for the WUSA-TV9 live sports show – GAME ON!
In late December 2014, an announcement concerning another charter member of the Divas helped build strong momentum heading into the anniversary season. The return of Alison Fischer as head coach represented another proud link to its earliest years. Of note, she has been involved with the Divas for 14 seasons (four as a coach, 10 as a player).
Fischer competed at the defensive back position for 10 seasons, while earning the honor of team captain for three of those seasons. After one season in retirement, she returned to the club as head coach, making a strong statement about the growing role of women in coaching. During her first three seasons, she led the club to a division crown in each, complemented by finishing in the top five national rankings each season.
The impact of the Anniversary season continued as Missy Bedwell, Cailie Brownson and Donna Wilkinson (all alums with Team USA) were invited to serve as instructors/mentors at the second annual Women’s World Football Games in Tampa, Florida. This honor was testament to their impact as legendary figures and ambassadors for the growing female game.
Prior to the season’s first kick-off, another monumental event occurred, destined to add to the mythology of the Divas. An announcement that the club would form a DC Divas Hall of Fame was an ideal opportunity to recognize the remarkable individuals who contributed to a great chapter in Washington sporting history.
With plans to induct four members on an annual basis, selection would be made through a two-tiered voting process involving Divas fans and alumnae. One member would be selected in an online fan vote, while the other three would gain entry on a vote from the alumni, including players, coaches and staff.
Of note, the 2015 Hall of Fame class was introduced at the Divas’ 2015 Homecoming contest on June 6, which was also Donna Wilkinson’s birthday. Hosting the fifth-ranked Cleveland Fusion, the Divas emerged victorious, improving their record to 7-0 for the first time since 2009. The halftime ceremony honored the D.C. Divas Hall of Fame Class of 2015: Tessa Nelson, Gayle Dilla, Vickie Lucas, and Coach Ezra Cooper.
Recently, team captains (and two-sport stars) Allyson Hamlin and Trigger McNair were the subject of an interview in Washington Life, another point of pride during the anniversary season. Such recognition only adds to the relevance of the Divas in the nation’s capital as they look to end said season with the second national championship in franchise history.
Although winning a national championship is akin to the pressure that comes with attempting to capture a title in men’s college football, the reality is that the Divas legacy in the city of Washington and in the rapidly growing sport of female football carries a significance that is certain to last over time. While a title is what everyone works towards, with due deference, it is a snapshot in time, a chapter in a bigger story. That bigger story consists of the impact of this amazing franchise, which has not only helped to signify the importance of female sport in America, but it has provided remarkable role models for young girls, while capturing the hearts and minds of both male and female sports fans.