D.C. Divas: Chasing a Championship

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To cap off-season 15, the women’s tackle football team D.C. Divas are heading to the playoffs undefeated in the Women’s Football Alliance league.

Leading them will be quarterback Allyson Hamlin who has won more games than any other quarterback in the history of women’s tackle football. By her side are offensive talents like Kenyetta Grigsby and Melissa Washington. All three have been named All Americans in the league this year and all are out and proud local athletes.

The D.C. Divas have won one Super Bowl, two Eastern Conference Championships, 12 division titles and have the most playoff appearances of any team in the league. They’re in the hunt this season for another Super Bowl.

Divas General Manager Rich Daniel says the credit for the undefeated season “goes to the players, coaches, and committed ownership.” Half of their coaching staff are former Diva players and that continuity is another secret to their success.

This is not your regular intramural sports league. Though every player of the current 60-person roster has a day job and pays for the chance to play on the team, they play at a professional level and are known as community leaders off the field.

“Players have a wide range of backgrounds and sporting experience, but it does take a committed, talented individual,” says Daniel. Experience is not required because most women have never had the chance to play full-contact tackle football. It’s the one sport that has not become co-ed in high school and college. Flag football is a distant alternative to the game.

Fortunately, that’s now changing. The first ever tackle football league for girls opened in Utah this year. There are also some colleges starting it up as well, largely because of the success of teams like the Divas. Dawson says, “They see us and it’s
a game changer for them.” The Divas have played so long; they’ve inducted the first four players into their Hall of Fame this season.

The spectators who come out to cheer the team on are vital to the game as well. First and foremost are the people who love the players – family, friends, coworkers, church members, and sorority sisters. Many others come out of curiosity. They may have seen a feature on local news and wanted to see

a woman play football and are still coming ten years later. Daniel adds, “A good many people take advantage of our discounts, including kids under six for free.”

Everyone associated with the Divas mentions
 the magic that surrounds the franchise. Daniel says, “When you put a little D.C. Diva in your life, things change for the better.” A part of the magic of the team is the total acceptance they have for each other. Quarterback Allyson Hamlin says, “I’m out in all aspects of my life and on the team you meet people from all walks of life; on the field we’re all together as one.” For Kenyetta Grigsby and Melissa Washington, the Divas are more than just a football team. They fell in love on the field. All three are raring to play for the championship on this team that has become family.

Allyson Hamlin, DC Divas Football

Photo by Denis Largeron

Allyson Hamlin, Quarterback (13 Seasons)

When did you come to D.C.?
I grew up here. It’s my favorite city in the world and the most underrated city in the world.

What’s your day job?
Prince George’s County Homicide Detective – it’s an all day and all night job.

How do you balance football with your job?
I love my job so much and football so much that I do everything I possibly can to make them work. Obviously the job comes first but my squad comes to all my games.

How did you start playing with the Divas?
I grew up with the boys in all boys’ leagues. When I got out of college, I was still playing competitive softball and I had a teammate to drag me into flag football. The original coach of the Divas was drafting players into tackle football.

What do you think of your chances in the big game?
We’ve been so close and things have gotten in the way. But being undefeated is a great place to be in and we certainly have what it takes.

Any advice for young athletes?
I think that society still has a hard time seeing women as beautiful and powerful at the same time. Whatever it is that you are – you can do whatever you want. To me that’s what it’s all about.

What are your thoughts for the future?
People ask me that a lot and I always say that Peyton Manning is my barometer. As long as he’s playing, I’m playing, but I know my final game is coming. Now I’m just trying to enjoy every minute, every practice, and every game and come away with another championship or two.

Kenyetta Gigsby

Photo by Denis Largeron

Kenyetta Grigsby, Running Back (6 Seasons)

When did you come to D.C.?
I’m from Detroit, Michigan. Work brought me here. I was the track and field coach at Howard University.

What’s your day job?
I’m a police officer with the city of Manassas.

How is it playing with your girlfriend?
It’s great! She plays tight end, so she has to block for me. Sometimes she misses and I have to tell her. Other than that, it’s great.

How did you start playing for the Divas?
I ran track and field and played flag football in college and also played for the Baltimore Burn and Nighthawks before moving to D.C. I was playing flag here for Howard University when I was working there and looked up contact football.

If you have a free moment, what else do you like to do?
I like traveling. I like trying new restaurants and hanging out with Melissa. I’m not a big party animal. I’d rather relax.

What do you think of your chances?
Offensively we’ve always been good. This year we have an awesome defense as well. We’re the number one team in the country. It’s up to us. The other teams can’t stop us; only we can stop ourselves.

Why should people come see games?
If you love football, it’s exciting; it’s competitive. We have the same rules as NFL football and I think we’re just as good.

Any advice for young women athletes?
If you want to do any sport, I encourage parents to get their kids out and get them into anything; if girls want to play football or if guys want to dance. Just be active and do what you love.

Melissa Washington, DC Divas

Photo by Denis Largeron

Melissa Washington, Tight End (3 Seasons)

When did you come to D.C.?
I’m a local – went to Largo High School and am happy to stick around. I love this area, there’s so much to do. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.

Did you ever consider staying in the closet?
In my football life and in my personal life, I don’t have any issues of being out. At work, it’s really not their business. But, I am blessed to have a family who loves and supports me. On the team, gay straight or whatever, we’re a family and everybody embraces everyone for who they are.

How is it playing with your girlfriend?
Kenyetta and I met my rookie season. She’d already been on the team for a while. We play two different positions, so there’s no competition, unless she’s yelling at me for not blocking for her. But it’s nice to be together and travel together. I see how tough it can be for players who don’t have partners on the team. We travel a lot and it can weigh on your relationship.

How did you start playing with the Divas?
I played professional basketball in Europe for five seasons and after I stopped, I was looking for something to stay in shape. That led to a flag football team here and I got asked to try out for the Divas. Initially, I was hesitant to play tackle football because I was worried about the physicality of the game but I came out and fell in love with it.

If you have a free moment what else do you like to do?
I enjoy the outdoors and riding bikes and going on trails. And I’m a big foodie, which is another reason why I love D.C. Kenyetta and I are in the process of starting a food blog. I also love to travel.

How important are other community leadership opportunities to you?
It’s a chance for us to give back and bring awareness to the game. If people haven’t come, they don’t know about us. Plus the White House Easter Egg Roll is awesome – you meet the president and some great athletes.

The national conference championship takes place on July 25 and they’ll hopefully play at the WFA National Championship Game in Los Angeles on August 8. Find out the schedule and follow the Divas at www.DCDivas.com.

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