Divas of the Gridiron

The DC Women’s Football Team Tackles Challenges on the Field and in Life

Article by Lauri Gross

Photography by Tara Sutherland

Originally published in Potomac Lifestyle

They say history favors the bold. Haley Van Voorhis hopes so. She is making history playing defensive back on the men’s tackle football team at Shenandoah University. And then there’s Jennifer King, assistant running backs coach for the Washington Football Team; Callie Brownson, the Chief of Staff with the Cleveland Browns; and Desiree Abrams, replay assistant with the NFL. These women are all Divas. Not the petulant, temperamental kind, but alumni of the professional tackle football team known as the DC Divas. 

The team is one of more than 50 in the Women’s Football Alliance, and one of 12 in the Alliance’s highest division, known as WFA PRO. The full-contact game is played in pads and helmets on a 100-yard field, following NCAA football rules. Founded in 2001, the Divas are the winningest team in the WFA, having won the National Championship in 2006, 2015 and 2016.

Besides getting jobs in the NFL, many Divas become college or high-school coaches but many also pursue careers unrelated to football. Team owner and president Rich Daniel says, “Regardless, the DC Divas learn life lessons while improving their physical and mental health.”

The Divas range in age from 18 to 40+ and, since they have to pay to play, all are students or have other jobs, including IT specialist, PE teacher, pharmacy tech, line cook, and mechanical engineer.

Divas wide receiver Lois Cook is 37 and the mom of four boys, aged 2 to 15. She’s a social-media influencer and runs the non-profit Lois Cook Foundation, dedicated to growing the sport and mentoring athletes. “I love hitting people and not getting in trouble for it,” she laughs, as she adds, “I also love creating bonds and a sisterhood/family that you’ll have for the rest of your life.”

“We’re fairly well recognized,” says Rich as he reflects on how potential players find their way to Divas’ try-outs. “There are flag leagues. We have 500+ alumni teammates. We recruit through social media,” he adds. Nearly 30 other countries play women’s tackle American football. “So that’s created a lot of interest,” says Rich who adds, “I drive a DC Diva truck and that’s led to conversations with people who become volunteers, sponsors, fans and recruits.”

To help alleviate player costs, the Divas are now a 501 (c) (3) so donations are tax deductible and can be given like scholarships to specific players. “We’ve also gotten the uniforms sponsored,” adds Rich.

Eleven Sports/FTF (For the Fans) Network broadcasts 10 WFA Games of the Week, plus the league playoffs, and the July WFA National Championship game which is played at the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Last year, the Divas played home games in Fairfax County. This year, they’ll be in Alexandria. The games are played on Saturdays April through July.

Rich says, “I love the sport and have great respect for it. This team, the sport and the league captured me with their heart, dedication, sacrifice and talent. These are super-talented people and it’s expressed with such joy, tenacity, belief and tears. That’s what keeps me driving the truck.”

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