The D.C. Divas are hard to define.
There’s a shock trauma nurse who likes to knock people down. A couple police officers, prison guard, fireman and several military personnel playing alongside a chef, insurance agent and school teacher. A recent high school valedictorian is teamed with those in their 40s who are literally old enough to be her mother. After all, they are mothers.
"If there’s a walk of life, it’s on this team," said running back Rachelle Pecovsky, a personal chef who drives from Newport News, Va. "We’re all willing to work basically two full-time jobs to play this sport."
The Columbus Comets visit the Divas for the National Women’s Football Association championship on Saturday before an expected 5,000 fans at Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex. The winner advances to the national championship on Aug. 5.
A victory could promote the sixth-year team into the secondary layer of local sports that largely includes everything after the Redskins, Nationals, Wizards and Capitals. Women’s football grows to 80 teams nationally next season, but it’s still basically a semipro sport with players only receiving part of the gate.
"There’s a little bit of a graduation to the seriousness of it," said Divas general manager Rich Daniel. "Ask D.C. United. They’ve won all those championships and now are putting 30,000 in the stands. You have to prove you can play the game. Nobody wants to see a game if it’s not good. They won’t support you if you’re not damn good."
The Divas are finally gaining support thanks to three straight undefeated regular seasons. After losing the last two conference finals, they’re favored given a 9-0 mark and a defense that allowed only six points in the season opener.
The sport has grown into something more than a sideshow of years ago. It’s a collection of athletes overcoming bruised ribs and dislocated shoulders.
They like the hitting. They know the schemes. They are football players.
"Most of [the difference with men] is not gender as much as time constraints," said coach Ezra Cooper, a former high school football coach. "With boys, we have them all day for three weeks [for training camp]. You can get your offense and defense together, but the women are working and lucky to get four hours of practice a week. You have to focus more on teaching.
"You find out they love football. They know the history and schemes. It’s fulfilling a dream for them. You’re going to get an opinion [from them]. They’ll let you know if you don’t know your stuff. They’ve learned quite a bit of football."
The average Diva is in her mid-30s and never played a team sport. Pecovsky was a college gymnast and runner who turned to football six years ago at 33.
"The first time I was laid out I was so mad I wanted to give it back," Pecovsky said. "I realized right then and there I didn’t want to be hit. I wanted to hit. A lot of people say ‘You’re too nice to play football. I said ‘You haven’t seen me on the football field."
Lots of teammates smile knowingly. They’re used to being underestimated. But Washington attorney and kick returner Lilah Blackstone noticed something different about her teammates during Tuesday’s practice when the temperature hovered near 100 degrees. They weren’t backing down from the conditions any more than the Redskins would cut practice short.
"We could see it in each other’s eyes," she said. "We’re all type-A personalities. We really don’t want to leave the job undone."
For 10 players who have spent the entire six seasons with the Divas, winning the title would become the franchise’s defining moment.
"We’re going to be the happiest team ever [if winning because] this is a long time coming for us," said defensive tackle Stacey Michael, a Prince George’s Hospital trauma nurse. "We’re almost there."
As a sport. As a team. As football players.Rick Snider has covered local sports for 28 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.