View Photo Gallery — The annual D.C. football rivalry continues: It started as something of a lark, but now in its seventh year, the annual flag football showdown has raised $500,000 locally and spread to 16 other cities, raising a total of $2 million for Alzheimer’s research.
By Amy Argetsinger, Updated: Sunday, November 13, 8:35 PM
Go ahead, make your snarky jokes, ask the saucy questions — all the things that come to mind when you learn about the Blondes vs. Brunettes flag football game. They’ve heard them all before. They get it. They’re owning it.
Do you have to be a real blonde to play on Team Blonde? “Of course not!” laughs Keri Ann Meslar, chair of the all-women’s event, a fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association. “I don’t know very many natural blondes these days!”
Do they primp for the games? Well, duh. Josie Taylor didn’t wake up with these carnation-pink lips. And she’s happy to tell you that she curled her high ponytail with a hot iron that game-day morning. “At the end of the day,” the Team Blonde veteran says, “we’re still girls.”
Uh, what about the redheads? “They’re free agents,” Team Brunette’s Raina Edelstein explains — at liberty to self-identify with the team of their choice. As we all are, really, in this heady new era of hair-color emancipation.
Now, are you ready for some football? Because they sure are.
Tackling a cause
D.C.’s seventh annual matchup of the Bettys and Veronicas went down Saturday afternoon at the George Washington University field on Foxhall Road. Raising almost $125,000, it marked a milestone for an event that started as a modest do-gooder effort within a small circle of friends, most in their mid-20s.
They were part of a preppy, Georgetown-centric crew that applied a Greek-system rigor to their post-college social life. No party without a good cause underlying it; no philanthropy without good cocktails fueling it.
“Every single night,” says Ryan Triplette, a political strategist, “if you wanted to go to a charity event, you could.”
And in the fall of 2005, they had a new cause. The father of their friend Sara Abbott was dying of early-onset Alzheimer’s. They wanted to do something.
It was the middle of football season, Triplette says, and “half of us were blond, and half of us were brunette.”
No one took offense to the concept. “It’s one of the ways you identify yourself,” she says. “In this day and age, you can change your hair color at the drop of a hat. It’s part of your personality.” And since you’re wondering: “I don’t really know what my natural hair color is.” (Just back from the hairstylist, she pegged her current shade as strawberry blond.)
Within a couple months, they’d mobilized for their first game that December at Hains Point — a Brunette 13-7 victory — raising $10,000.
It only got bigger from there. Blondes vs. Brunettes has not only raised $500,000 locally, but it has spread to 16 other cities, raising a total of $2 million for Alzheimer’s research.
Today, Blondes vs. Brunettes is virtually a way of life for a sector of young Washington women. They sign onto a team at a September “draft party,” after raising a minimum of $250 each. They spend the next few months practicing with their team up to three times a week — as well as frenetically trying to raise more money. They host brunches and bar crawls. They sell T-shirts, a BvB calendar and, of course, tickets to the big game. (This year, BvB nabbed the support of corporate donors: Coca-Cola, Bud Light and Under Armour, among others. )
Basically, it’s Junior League for the Title IX generation. And like the Junior League, it has broadened and diversified beyond its original Georgetown base. Many have a connection to the cause — grandparents or great-grandparents who suffered from Alzheimer’s. Brunette Breanna Olson’s mother is struggling with the disease, which has sensitized others to the mission.
“We don’t run in the same social circles, but we’ve become really good friends,” said Ashley Branca, 29, captain of the Brunettes and a research scientist at the Department of Education.
No color barrier
Brooke A. Henderson doesn’t even blink at the question.
“No, I’m not blond at all,” says the sunny blond rookie on Team Blonde. The 23-year-old publicist has turned out on game day in a pink hair bow and the same slim-cut hot-pink jersey donned by her teammates. (This year, the Brunettes are in blue.) She has eyeliner on her lids and eyeblack on her cheeks.
These days, it’s not a rude question at all. From dye to highlights to extensions to wigs, there’s a world of hair-color options, and why should we pretend we don’t exercise them? Henderson explains that she made the transition from dark to light about a year ago.
“That’s surprising!” exclaims teammate Sarah Valerio, a 27-year-old lawyer. “I think of you as blond!” (As for herself: “Born blond” — a common refrain among her teammates — but “now a bottle blonde.”)
Meslar stops by the Blonde meeting to wish everyone well, and a groan goes up. “You always go brunette before the game!” someone complains. Nothing partisan, Meslar says, just seasonal. Dark blond by nature, she lightens in summer and darkens in winter: “I’m trying to go bur-lond.”
The changing times of BvB might be best exemplified by journalist Kate Howard, 24, whose Team Blonde friends asked her to join them this year.
“There’s a minor problem with that,” Howard reminded them: She’s African American. Not a problem at all, her friends insisted. So, yes, Howard dyed her hair, a shade of dark honey. “I say I’m channeling my inner Beyoncé,” she says.
Gives a whole new meaning to “gameday highlights,” huh? But it goes both ways. The Blondes get blonder for the football game, but on Team Brunette, “there are three girls who’ve gone darker,” notes raven-haired Molly McGlynn.
The Blondes are maybe, on average, somewhat lither; the Brunettes a bit more buff (this year they enlisted a couple of members of the D.C. Divas pro women’s football team). The Blondes have their real last names on their jerseys, while the Brunettes have tough-guy nicknames (“Lindsanity,” “Doofer”). The Blondes had one final practice Saturday morning, whereas the Brunettes had brunch. (“Which I missed,” says Allison Prescott, “because I was blow-drying my hair.”)
Big game highlights
There was a lot at stake Saturday. In 2010, the Blondes broke the Brunettes’ five-year streak with their first-ever win, a 26-20 victory.
But Blonde quarterback Deanna Tebeau (yes, pronounced “Tebow”) came on hot right out of the gate, finding her receivers with no difficulty. The Blondes were up 2, then up 8.
It got ugly: Jenny Nolen, playing defense for the Blondes, tried to grab the Brunette QB’s flag, got pushed by a Brunette (“I’m sure it wasn’t intentional,” she later told us sweetly) and landed hard on her hand. She played the rest of the game — but ended up at the hospital afterward, with a diagnosis of a broken wrist.
There were hurt feelings, too: A few players were never put into the game, raising some concern that win-hungry coaches were forgetting that this was supposed to be fun.
Meslar says she urges the volunteer coaches (guys, as it happens) to play the women based on how much they’ve shown up for practice — but, ultimately, she allows them to make their own decisions. “I’m not going to be like Dan Snyder,” she says.
At halftime, the Blondes led 16-7; in the final quarter, by 22-13. Branca clustered members of Team Bru together for a pep talk.
“Ladies, we are way better than this,” she said. They had 15 minutes to turn it around, she warned.
They did. Brunette QB Jenny Paine made a touchdown just microseconds before a Blonde pulled her flag.
Minutes later, Team Bru won the game, 26-22, thanks largely to a brilliant interception by game hero Maria Burton that dazzled play-by-play announcer Joey Catron.
“This is her fourth year playing,” he told the crowd, “and she’s proud to be a natural brunette.”