Professional women’s football is coming to DFW. This spring, The Texas Elite Spartans will be one of 15 teams competing in the newly formed Women’s National Football Conference (WNFC). All games will be played in Addison.
The WNFC is not the country’s first female league. What makes it unique is its ambitious business model. Other leagues typically rely on teams paying to participate. The WNFC has modeled itself on the NFL and other men’s leagues. It plans to generate revenue through strategic marketing and corporate sponsorships. Most importantly, no money will be taken from teams. In fact, as the league grows, players will even get paid, if everything goes according to plan.
“Ultimately women should not have to beg, borrow and steal to do what they love in anything,” said league co-founder Odessa Jenkins, who also serves as the Texas Elite Spartans co-owner and head coach. “There should the same product available for prime female athletes that there is for prime male athletes.”
There is no doubt that Odessa is one of those prime athletes. She grew up playing football and basketball with her brothers and cousins who were all close in age.
“Playing sports was what we did,” she recalled. “It didn’t matter if you were a girl or a boy. All anyone cared about was, ’Can you ball?’”
Odessa played both sports through eighth grade. At the suggestion of her high school coach she quit football to focus solely on basketball. The move helped her earn an athletic scholarship to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where she excelled in track and was twice named the Big West Conference women’s basketball player of the year.
Odessa Jenkins // photos Jennifer Shertzer
In 2006 after she’d finished college, a friend asked her to join an eight-on-eight women’s football league he was starting. Odessa was hooked on the sport again. When her company transferred her to Dallas two years later, the first thing she did was look for a women’s football team.
“Once football is in your blood, it’s hard to get out,” she said.
Odessa starred on the field for years as a running back before going into coaching and management. In 2017 she served as an intern for the Atlanta Falcons, becoming the first African-American woman to sign an NFL coaching internship contract.
Frustrated with the direction of other women’s leagues, Odessa formed the Texas Elite Spartans in October that year. Last summer the team competed as an independent where it won a national tournament against other top-level teams.
“When I started to get into the business of women’s football, I wanted to get something better for the women,” she said. “I noticed that they were paying $1,500 to $2,000 to these owners and they still had to return their helmets to the team and ride in buses without air conditioning.”
courtesy Texas Elite Spartans
This year, women have come from all corners of the country to play for the Texas Elite Spartans. There are doctors, teachers, truck drivers, police and firefighters, all united by a passion for football.
According to Odessa, the response from the corporate community has been good so far, with several high profile sponsors coming on board. Games start April 6. The WNFC is currently based in western and southern states, but plans are in the works to expand north and east next year.
“The underlying purpose of this is not to start a business but to create a real opportunity for women and girls who want to play football,” Odessa said. “If we can teach our girls not to have barriers the same way we teach our boys, I think it will help society as a whole.”