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Women's Professional Football Is Growing in US

It has been a men's sport for decades. These days, women in the U.S. can play professional tackle football in a 41-team league. Washington's team, the D.C. Divas, just completed an undefeated season in the nine-year-old league the team's owner says is catching on. As they head into the playoffs with home field advantage, VOA reports most of the women had never played football before.

Football under the lights is an American tradition. But this game has a big difference.

On this night, the Philadelphia Firebirds are playing the Washington D.C. Divas. Both are part of the professional Independent Women's Football League or IWFL.

Paul Hamlin is the Owner of the D.C. Divas. "Right now a lot of people still don't know that women play full contact tackle football. And people are a little surprised when I tell them, 'Jesus, real tackle football, You mean they tackle each other? Things like that,'" he said.

The league has been in existence for nine years and now fields 41 teams representing cities across the country.

Players range in age from their early 20's to early 40's. Most were athletes since they were young and wanted to continue playing sports.

Paul Hamlin says very few of these women had played organized football at any level before.

"What we want to do is to develop opportunities for young women and girls to learn about football, tackle football," he said. "And to develop the skills that are necessary to play the game well."

Thirty-six-year-old Lara Aribisala is a single mother of two. She came to the U.S. from Nigeria nine years ago.

A former marathon runner, she joined the Divas three years ago. Lara says the physical part of the game is easy. The hard part is mental, such as learning her position and the plays, such as tackling the quarterback.

"I remember when I made my first sack and I didn't even know that is what it is called," she recalled. "That is the funniest part. I didn't even know what a sack meant. All I understood was find the ball, kill. I was like oh, I could do that."

Lara's life centers around her children, picking them up at the school bus stop and making them lunch before she goes to football practice.

She also works as a personal nurse and life coach. Her days are very busy. But Lara says football has become an important part of her life.

"The hardest thing is giving everybody their own time, you know making time for everything," she said. "Making time for the kids, making time for work, and making time for yourself, and playing football."

On game day, The D.C. Divas jump out to an early lead against the Philadelphia Firebirds. Lara must watch from the sidelines.

She tore a ligament in her knee and will need surgery to repair it. She is out for the rest of the season. "It is not a good feeling because you are not out there with your uniform in the game. But for what it is worth it is nice to be out there and be able to cheer your teammates. You know, give them all the support you can," she cheered.

It is a good evening for the Divas, they win big, 63 to nothing. This is the last game of the regular season and the Divas are undefeated.

"Now here is the thing right now though. I am telling you right now I did not come here to be undefeated, I did not come here to score 63 points. I want to win a world championship," Coach told the team.

If the Divas are lucky, they will move on the league championship game in Austin, Texas. And another season of women's professional football will be in the history books.