Since the time she was a little girl, Lisa Jasper has been in love with sports, especially football.
"I just have loved sports my whole life," said Jasper, who grew up in the Mount Vernon area and currently resides in Riverside Gardens. "God just gave me the gift of natural ability. My hand-eye coordination growing up [was always good]. I was always good in sports. I remember going into the backyard in Riverside Gardens and my dad would practice pitching with me. Then we'd go up to the [Waynewood Elementary School] field and practice hitting."
And Sundays were about church and football.
"On Sundays, all I did was go to church, come home and watch football on TV with my dad," she said, obviously enjoying the memories.
Jasper dreamed of being a pro football player when she was a kid. And how far-fetched was that? After all, she was a girl.
Well, as it turns out, it wasn't too far-fetched at all. Jasper, 43, is currently a member of the D.C. Divas, a women's pro football team and part of the 21-team National Women's Football League (NWFL).
The spring season tackle football league, in its second year of existence, is made up mostly of east coast teams.
This Saturday at 4 p.m., the Divas (2-1) will play their fourth game of the eight-game schedule when they meet the visiting Tennessee Venom. The contest will take place at the Divas' home playing site at Eastern High School (Washington, D.C.).
JASPER IS LISTED as a quarterback on the Divas' depth chart.
"She's doing pretty well," said Divas coach Ezra Cooper. "I think she's coming along the way we expected her to."
Jasper, a physical education teacher at Carl Sandburg Intermediate, did not even realize Washington had a women's football team until one of her students informed her about the local team in February. She was overjoyed to learn of the team and eventually contacted coach Cooper. Although the team had already been practicing for some time, Cooper gave Jasper a tryout one Saturday at Marshall High School in Falls Church.
"He watched my passing and catching and we did some other drills," recalled Jasper, who was naturally beside herself when she learned she had made the team.
But she also had the normal growing pains as a first-time football player.
"It was really tough for me to get used to throwing," said Jasper. "It's very different with shoulder pads on. It takes a while to get used to it. I wasn't as accurate when we first started practicing, and couldn't throw as far. Every time I had ever played football growing up, I was playing with neighborhood boys and no equipment. The helmet took a little time to get used to, too. It's second nature now. Boys grow up knowing all about this stuff because they grow up playing pee wee [football]."
AS A YOUNGSTER, Jasper played youth sports. And she continued playing athletics as a student at Fort Hunt High School. There, she played four years of basketball and softball, and two years of tennis. Her junior year, she was selected as the school's Most Outstanding Female Athlete and was also team MVP for the girls basketball team. She went on to play college softball for two years at the University of North Carolina.
"She was an excellent athlete," said Frank Creneti, Jasper's softball coach in high school and currently the athletic director at Bishop McNamara in Forestville, Md. "She played shortstop for me. She has always had great speed and she hit the ball well and covered a lot of ground at shortstop and had an excellent arm. She was a fierce competitor."
Creneti, who also coached football at Fort Hunt, knew of Jasper's love of the gridiron.
"She loved football and always wanted to play," he said.
Now, Jasper is finally getting to live her dream. Although she has not gotten into any games with the Divas yet, she loves practicing twice a week with the team and holds high hopes of seeing game action. She said the Divas have some good quarterbacks on the squad, and believes her best chance to get into a game will be as a special teams player.
"I think the special teams is my best shot," said Jasper.
Cooper said Jasper has the athletic skills to play quarterback, although he is uncertain if she will see game action at the position.
"I like her [foot work]," he said. "She also has great vision down field. The throwing mechanics are something we have to work on with all our quarterbacks. None of them has played with pads before."
Cooper said Jasper's enthusiasm for the sport and desire to play went a long way in her making the team.
"It's one of the reasons we decided to keep her on," he said. "We felt she would be a good asset and contribute to the season."
NEIGHBOR AND FRIEND Sallie Hutcheson said she was a bit surprised to learn Jasper was going to be playing football. But she also knew how good an athlete Jasper is.
"We've tossed the football around the yards," said Hutcheson. ..."I can definitely see her playing quarterback. She's obviously very athletic and has been playing athletics all her life."
Hutcheson said Jasper's personality is infectious.
"She's very outgoing, very friendly," said Hutcheson, who has known Jasper for eight years. "She likes to tell jokes. She's a real conversationalist."
Jasper and her husband John have two children — 10-year old daughter Taylor, and seven-year old son John Stone. Taylor is all for her mom playing football, although she has some natural concerns, too.
"It's kind of scary because usually you see men in football pads and when you see mom going down the field, [it's different]," said Taylor, a fourth grader at Stratford Landing Elementary.
Taylor recalled her reaction upon learning her mom was going to play football. "I thought it was really cool," she said. "She says its been a dream [to play]."
Jasper remembers talking to her family prior to a practice game earlier this season and telling them she wanted to have fun and enjoy the experience of being on a football team. As she ran onto the field that day for pre-game warm-ups, she knew that, in some respects, she had arrived as a football player.
"I couldn't believe I was on the field and playing women's football," jasper recalled.
She recalled thinking to herself that day, "`This is what I wanted to do my whole life, and I'm doing it.'"
And loving every moment of it.