Growing up in a strict military household in San Diego, Devon Goldsmith’s father didn’t let her watch football on television. Now at age 34, she's on the gridiron several times a week as a linebacker and running back for the Dallas Texas Elite women’s football team.
Dallas Elite, formed in 2014, is part of the nine-year-old national Women’s Football Alliance. It's one of 65 teams competing around the country this season, from April through the championship game in July in Atlanta.
Dallas Elite took home that championship trophy in 2017, beating Boston Renegades, 31-21. But then, faced with ownership struggles last fall, the team split up.
In February, new leadership got the team on the field again. Now owner Maria Spencer, along with new co-owners LynMarie Liberty-Ellington and Mike Ellington, are rebuilding the organization and spreading the word that Dallas women's football is alive and well.
They’ve recruited new players, formed partnerships with community organizations, have plans to add a dance team to help cheer on the games, and are using the hashtag #beElite to shine a spotlight on a sport that has struggled for attention.
Home games are played at the massive Prestonwood Christian Academy campus in Plano, and tickets are just $10 per person ($12 at the door). The team would like to get more than its usual 250 to 350 people in the stands.
“To me, women's football encompasses female empowerment at its fullest," says Liberty-Ellington. "Women get to play a sport they were always told was only for boys, and women's football is probably the only sport that embraces women of all shapes and sizes.”
The Ellingtons have successful track record as previous owners of the Lonestar Mustangs, the Tulsa Eagles, and Little Rock Wildcats. As a former WFA champion herself, Spencer says she wants “to see women’s football reach the masses."
To help reach the masses in Dallas, the team is expanding its community outreach efforts. For instance, it has partnered on a raffle with Lancer Legacy Ranch, a support organization for veterans. Raffle ticket sales will help the ranch secure needed tools for its workshop, while the Elite will get money to help defray travel costs.
Players on Dallas Elite don't earn salaries. In fact, they each paid $500 to be on the team this season, and owners cover many expenses and travel costs. Most players are professionals with day jobs, from a barber and a bodybuilder, to teachers and business women.
Games and the practices are a family affair, with players and coaches often bringing their little ones to practices, which take place two to three times a week.
Goldsmith works as an IT business analyst. She has played football for 15 years, two of them with the Elite, and loves it. The game, she says, isn’t just about running around and taking down the opponent.
“It’s really more than that,” she says. “It’s like protecting your family. It’s a really big deal.”
Lauren Chesley, 33, a disability liaison by day who joined the team last year, says she thinks more awareness of women's football would encourage girls to play the game in middle school and high school.
“Especially with contact sport, a lot of people have a hard time wrapping their minds around women doing it,” she says. “It’s hard for people to understand that you can be beautiful and strong and nice, and be aggressive at the same time.”
But that's what the players on Dallas Elite do when they take the field.
“It’s a lot of fun,” says Chesley. “We play the sport how it’s meant to be played, not modified or anything. It’s straight-up football.”
The next Dallas Elite game, against the Kansas City Titans, takes place at 7 pm May 19 at Prestonwood Christian Academy.