Tackling, touchdown-scoring D.C. Divas show no goal is out of bounds

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 10, 2010; 9:03 PM

"Mommyyyyyyyyyyyyy!" the kid yelled in that key that makes both parents and the childless shudder.

Mommy headed toward the screeching 11-year-old boy, her cleats clack-clack-clacking on the track, her massive shoulder pads foreboding.

Football pads.

Okiima Pickett, a 30-year-old running back, took off her helmet and wiped away dripping sweat before addressing her son, who was supposed to be doing homework on the sidelines while she was running through her plays at Anacostia High School to get ready for a playoff game Saturday night.

This is a typical scene at this professional football team's practice, in between the crunch of helmets, the crash of bodies and the screams of coaches, who smack the players on the helmet after a play run well.

They race to the field after work, change diapers on the sidelines, watch one another's kids, and admit they love -- love -- "to hit."

The D.C. Divas, a women's professional, full-tackle football team, has been playing for a decade. Its Web site boasts that it is Washington's most successful professional sports teams, with an overall record of 72-21. One of its former stars, Natalie Randolph, made headlines this year when she was named head coach of the Coolidge High School football team, making her what was reported to be the only woman in the country to coach a boys' varsity team. .

Yet the Divas don't get much love from hometown sports fans, most of whom have no idea that women play tackle football. Really, it shouldn't be news.

We've got women boxing, wrestling, playing ice hockey and plenty of other sports that have long been the domain of men. But somehow, Americans still have a hard time getting their heads around women in pads and helmets, running on a 100-yard field and hitting hard.

"Football is like the last of the Mohicans of sports for women. It's the last one standing that men are holding, that women haven't totally infiltrated," said Jordyn White, 29, a U.S. Census statistician who is also a defensive linewoman.

"When I tell people I play football, they're like: 'Powderpuff, right?' And I'm, like, 'No.' And they say 'Flag?' And I'm, like, 'No way.' Full-tackle, all-the-way, real football. I love it," said Kandice Faulkner, a 24-year-old security guard at the U.S. Patent Office and a dancer on the nights she's not a defensive back.

"I grew up right on MLK here, and I grew up hard. We were rough," Faulkner told me after practice one night this week, when her long braids cascaded over her pads as she took off her helmet. She played tackle football with her brothers and other boys on the block in Southeast Washington.

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