Dallas Diamonds a best friend to devoted athletes
Dawn Berndt defines her vocation as "making women's dreams come true" -- dreams of annihilating opponents on the football field.
Berndt says the players on the Dallas Diamonds women's professional football team, which she owns, love football.
"It's an obsession," she says. "To me and my players, it's all about serious dedication and winning. I don't pay them, but they put in hour upon hour of training to live their dream."
Last year the Diamonds defeated the Houston Energy, three-time champions of the Women's Professional Football League and the league's only other team in Texas, to lead the southern division of the WPFL and advance to the National Conference championship.
The Diamonds lost that game, but the defeat inspired them to an undefeated record this year and the WPFL championship.
"Getting so close to a championship and then losing made us really want it this time," Berndt says.
The women in the league aren't there to prove a feminist point, she says. They're there to compete.
"People think ‘women's football' and ignore us, but they haven't seen these women play," Berndt says.
Professional women's football surfaced as early as 1960 and has had numerous leagues and incarnations, but the 6-year-old WPFL is the first to offer a national collection of 14 teams in 10 states. It uses National Football League rules with a few accommodations for the physical differences of men and women -- the biggest being that the ball is slightly thinner.
But the crunching sound from the head-on tackles is definitely real. Berndt attests to that.
"I'm always scared for my players," she says.
Berndt watches the Diamonds prepare for a game against Houston with a practice drill called "Bull in the Circle," in which a player is surrounded by teammates ready to tackle from all directions. The goal is to fend them all off.
"Last time we did this we had several injuries and an ambulance," Berndt nervously whispers.
Berndt started the Diamonds in 2001 because she wanted to play football. She invests every extra cent and minute she has into the team. Her days are dedicated to the Diamonds and her nights are spent working as a support mechanic for American Airlines, with a few spare hours for sleep.
She's only played in one game in three years, but she grants a roster of 44 women an opportunity for competition.
Many of these women are like Karen Lee, who, like Berndt, attended the University of North Texas. Lee, a former forward for the North Texas women's basketball team, is now a Diamonds defensive end.
Other players are also former high school and college athletes looking for a new level of competition. Their backgrounds are in soccer, basketball, lacrosse, hockey and even rugby and flag football.
"I've always been athletic and I've always been competitive," Lee says. "So it doesn't seem so strange for me to try this -- but it's a lot different than basketball or softball."
Fellow UNT alumna Monica Foster, the Dallas Diamonds' quarterback, walked away with more than her share of cuts and bruises playing football with her older brother.
"It's better competing against other women," she says. "But some of the other teams like Houston are so big. I've been lucky to just come out of it sore."
Team tryouts, held in the spring, are open to anyone regardless of experience or size. Players range in age from 18 to 40. Only a few weigh as much as 250 pounds.
Five-foot-five defensive back Lindsey Clark, a former high school soccer player, is a UNT student. She puts in at least 15 to 20 hours of practice a week during the season and also works as a personal trainer, teaching pilates and yoga.
Players train even harder during the off season, and each pays several hundred dollars in uniform and equipment fees to compete.
"There's no question that you've got to want to be here," Foster says.
Many of these ladies would do anything to play -- regardless of injury, recent childbirth or good sense.
"Sometimes I've literally got to wrestle them off the field when they're injured," Berndt says. "They'll play even if their arm is falling off."
Berndt says she thinks the biggest difference between women's football and the NFL is that women's football is more personal.
Players stay after the games to sign autographs and meet fans. Many serve not only on the field but go door to door selling tickets and participating in community events. Lee has even gained a small following of fans who come to the games splattered with the purple and white of the Diamonds to cheer them on.
She says being on the team really is a dream come true.
UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108