What does it mean to be a diva? A D.C. Diva, that is, the stalwart women’s full-contact football team that is currently surging toward its second straight Women’s Football Alliance Super Bowl Championship.
Well, it’s really not very complicated, but that’s not to say that being a part of one of the District’s proudest, most successful sports teams is not an extraordinary endeavor.
Talk to a Diva and you are likely to hear the word “family.” Except their family comes from all walks of life, and all sorts of backgrounds. And just as with a family, there are sacrifices, responsibilities, joys and pain. Broken bone kind of pain.
A Diva might be White, Black, Asian, gay or straight. A Diva might be a teacher, civil engineer or a technician with the Army. A Diva might bring her child to practice while she prepares to go out and excel at a brutal sport — possibly with exquisite, customized fingernails.
As diverse as they are, the Divas share a love of football, of course, and a desire to compete. But come down to the field, or attend a game, and you will see, hear and feel an intense togetherness embodied in a tribal chant that they all insist is the secret to their success: “A Team Together Can’t Be Beat.”
Donna Wilkinson – Running Back, Tight End, LinebackerThey call her “The Animal.” Wilkinson is a 16-year veteran who, like many Divas, initially just needed to prove she could play. But as the 70-member Divas organization committed to one another, they found a mission beyond football, and The Animal found her swagger. “It’s not separable from who I am. I take it with me wherever I go.”
Roshonda Ware – Running BackWare is a rookie. She’s learning to balance work and family with the energy it takes to give 100 percent at every practice. “The Divas are teaching me their ways. Everyone here has so much heart.”
Quiana Ford – SafetyFord, a native of Southwest D.C. and 2015 Rookie of the Year, grew up playing Pee-Wee football with the boys. But when she saw the Divas on the news, she knew they were kindred spirits. “This is different. This is sisterhood. They get it. It’s not about ‘you can’t play.’ We come out and do it.”
Briana Croley – FullbackDivas dish out punishment, but often feel pain. Croley is out for the season with a broken arm, yet she still shows up for practice each week. “It means football, it means friends for life, that’s why I’m out here.”
Denee “Dex” Walker – Defensive Tackle, Nose GuardWalker brings 10 years of league experience and three years to the Divas. Being with the Divas is unlike being with any other team. “It’s just like the Patriots have the Bill Belichek way, the Divas have the Diva way. It’s how we do things here.”
Jimmien Strong – Defensive Tackle, Nose Guard, FullbackStrong is the mother of the D-line. She keeps them moving together in sync with the linebackers. And she does it with flair, doing her nails before every game, which, she says, keeps her in touch with her femininity. “The unity we have goes beyond the field. We pray together, party together, eat together. That makes us give 150 percent on the battlefield for each other.”
Melissa “Missy” Bedwell – Offensive LineThis season started out rough with a loss to the Cowboys in a rematch of last year’s Super Bowl. The team needed a wake-up call. Now they are vying for a second title in two years. “This team is a unit. They are passionate, they are motivated. They’ll do whatever it takes. And they’ll do whatever it takes for each other.”
Allyson “Ally” Hamlin – Starting QuarterbackAfter 14 seasons with the Divas, Ally is the decision maker. She puts the ball in the right hands at the right time and lets her teammates do the rest. Of last year’s championship, she says: “Years and years and years in the making, all the work, all the tears, it was all worth the wait.”
The Divas start their playoff campaign this coming Saturday with a home game against the three-time National Champion Pittsburgh Passion, a team the Divas haven’t faced since 2013.
Words by Jeffrey Anderson and Photographs by Andy DelGiudice