Passing of a pioneer as DC Divas remember a life lost too soon

Every football franchise has a coach who left a remarkable imprint on the franchise. Whether it be Tom Landry with the Dallas Cowboys or Bill Walsh with the San Francisco 49ers, Ezra Cooper had that same impact with the proud DC Divas women’s football club. Having taught hundreds of women in the Washington, DC area the game of tackle football, he made a profound impact on not just their playing careers, but their lives.

Image obtained from DC Divas facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/dcdivasfootball

Image obtained from DC Divas facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/dcdivasfootball

Having lost his life during the weekend of October 26, it was not just a life lost too soon, but the passing of a pioneer in the game of women’s football. When the Divas were one of the ten charter franchises in the National Women’s Football Association, they became the first pro women’s team in the DC area.

The untimely loss of Cooper signifies the passing of a third male who helped bring a touch of class and friendship to the proud franchise. Photographer Bob Morrison, who contributed to the US Army and National Geographic, started capturing the Divas gridiron glories in 2007. Despite confinement to a wheelchair due to cancer, he was still devoted to the club, photographing from the sidelines. Trainer Nate Randolph became a member of the Divas family in 2004. Volunteering his time and serving as a father figure for many of the players, his daughter Natalie was also a receiver for the club.

With Cooper as their first-ever coach, he guided them to a 3-4 mark in their inaugural 2001 season. While it was the only losing season in their history, it came as great validation when he led the Divas to their first win in franchise history, a 10-6 home win over the Connecticut Crush.

His assiduous efforts helped create a women’s football dynasty in DC that led to five consecutive playoff appearances and five straight division titles from 2003-07. The 2003 season would be a watershed moment in his coaching tenure. Not only did the Divas win their first-ever playoff game (ironically, it would come against Connecticut), but Donna Wilkinson became the first female football player to rush for over 1,000 yards in one season. Her dream season would finish with a sparkling 1,267 rushing yards.

As a coach, his finest accomplishment was capturing the NWFA title in 2006 over the Oklahoma City Lightning. Yet, his greatest legacy was the number of remarkable women who grew as athletes and people under his tutelage. When Team USA captured the 2013 IFAF Women’s World Championships in Vantaa, Finland, three Divas were part of the club; defensive back Callie Brownson, defensive lineman Donna Wilkinson and offensive lineman Rebecca Worsham. There is no doubt that all three were affected in some way by his influence with the club.

Of all the players he ever coached, Wilkinson may have been his biggest superstar. While she competes at the running back and tight end position in a storied career with the Divas, she is also a popular local TV personality, working as a sports analyst on WUSA-TV9 GAME ON.

During the Divas years in the NWFA, he compiled a regular season record of 40-8, which included three undefeated seasons of 8-0 from 2004-06. During 2004, Cooper would lead the Divas into the Turkey Bowl, the first tackle football contest to feature men play against women. While the Divas lost the contest, a remarkable 8,500 fans came to show their support.

In the postseason, he would compile a 6-3 mark which featured the storied title win in 2006. He would join the club into their transition in the Independent Women’s Football League where the 2007 season resulted in another 8-0 record. The postseason would result in an Eastern Conference semi-final loss to the Atlanta Xplosion.

Named the NWFA Head Coach of the Year in 2006, the honor was made even more special as it was voted on by not just franchise owners, but fellow coaches, players and fans. He was also recognized in June 2009 with the Excellence Award from the Northern Virginia Athletic Directors Administrators and Coaches Association. When he was not on the gridiron occupying his all too familiar position as head coach, Cooper worked as a payroll manager.

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