The ladies of Washington Prodigy line up on defense.
On a cool Tuesday evening, Prodigy football players in full pads and a hodgepodge of different colored jerseys and helmets work in small groups on different parts of the field.
This is not your typical football team. When most people think of football, they imagine beefy men slamming their opponents into the ground on live television for millions of dollars. But these players are not men, and they not earning millions. These players are women of the newly formed Washington Prodigy.
Prodigy owner Tiffany Matthews is a firefighter and one-time member of the D.C. Divas, which for a decade was the region's only women's pro tackle football team. But the Divas had a long roster and not every player got as much field time as they wanted. Last summer, Matthews decided to strike out on her own: She applied for a franchise to the Independent Women's Football League, which was looking for a D.C. team. In September, she formed the Prodigy.
"To me it was really huge, women playing football, wearing the pads and everything," says Matthews.
Joined by her friend and now general manager Jordyn White, Matthews set about selecting a team name, team colors, finding places to play, and all the rest of the details that go into founding an organization. They held tryouts last fall.
"It's not really a pass-fail type of thing," she says. "You fail if you quit. If you just stop and say, 'I can't that's not going to make any team."
Most of the women on the team were athletes already — they ran track or played basketball or flag football. For Lydia Melton, a Prodigy wide receiver and professional dancer, football is an extension of her personality.
"We were playing flag, and a 6-foot-2 sixth grader came and kinda-sorta tackled me by accident, but I shook it off and kept moving, and my friend, he was like, man, you're tough," recalls Melton.
Deanna Revelo had never played football before coming to the Prodigy. She plays as an offensive lineman. She says the hardest thing so far has been trying to learn the plays.
Head Coach Keith Howard says learning football demands more of players' brains than their brawn.
"They don't know these plays, and a whole terminology, and it's whoa, I gotta really study," he says.
Getting all the players geared up, making sure there's water, and most of the other organizational details fall to general manager and player Jordyn White.
White, also a former member of the D.C. Divas, is a statistician for the Census Bureau. She's been playing football for nine years. In addition to her organizational responsibilities, she plays both offensive and defensive line. But that's the fun part. She and Matthews have to find a way to raise their $20,000 in annual expenses, and they need the players to help.
"They have to make a commitment and do their best to recruit personal sponsors and corporate sponsors, which is difficult," says White. "Fundraising is a task we have to put a lot of energy into."
All of the concerns of management fade into white noise as Matthews, White and the Prodigy suit up for their first game, an April 26 home game against the Keystone Assault of Dillsburg, Pa.
The team struggles early, players' nerves got the best of them: A flurry of penalties and miscues leave the Prodigy trailing 12-0 late in the fourth quarter. With 1:07 left on the clock, Prodigy quarterback Kathryn Hemlock runs for the team's first ever touchdown. Now down only 5 points, Coach Keith Howard calls for an onside kick, a play intended to give the kicking team, in this case the Prodigy, a small chance to get the ball back and run one or two more offensive plays. The kick comes in low over the ground and bounces once, then twice, skipping through the arms of Assault players. For a moment, one Prodigy member seemed to have the ball.
The crowd cheers... and then there's disappointment.
In the end, the Assault retained possession. The clock ran out, and the game ended in defeat, but not despair.
"You guys, we are so much better than we were than when we started this journey," says quarterback Hemlock. "Just think about how much further we can go."
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