Powder-Puff Teams to Tackle Alzheimer’s Disease

Posted November 10, 2010 at 3:14pm

It’s the age-old question. Betty or Veronica? Marilyn or Jackie?

Blonde or brunette?

That’s what a group of Washington, D.C., women will answer when they take the field to compete in the sixth annual Blondes vs. Brunettes powder-puff football game Saturday.

Their immediate aim is to score touchdowns and emerge triumphant, but their overarching goal is to tackle a much bigger issue than any one person on the field: Alzheimer’s disease.

“These teams are incredible,” event spokeswoman Judy Mayka said. “People are so incredibly busy, but they take the time to practice two or three times a week, make playbooks, sell tickets.”

The game was created in D.C. in 2005, shortly after co-founder Sara Allen Abbott’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Mayka said. Abbott felt helpless, but she wasn’t the type of person to sit back and just let things happen to her. She needed to take charge.

Co-founder Ryan Triplette said deciding what to do was a bit of a challenge. D.C. society, after all, is filled with balls and galas dedicated to various causes, with tickets costing hundreds of dollars. What could they do to make this event unique and affordable?

Then the idea came: Why not football? It was football season, after all, and there were enough of them to split into teams. Between their professional networks, they could probably raise a decent amount of money. They decided to divide the teams into blondes and brunettes. That first year, the group raised about $12,000.

Six years later, the game has grown into something more than any of the original participants had imagined. Seven other cities have Blondes vs. Brunettes games (Columbus, Ohio; Buffalo, N.Y.; Kansas City, Kan.; Austin, Texas; Atlanta; Chicago; Houston and Dallas), while people from cities including New York and Los Angeles are in the works of creating their own chapters. More than $1 million has been raised for the Alzheimer’s Association.

As of Wednesday, more than $77,000 has been raised this year in the D.C. area, according to the event website. The goal is to raise $125,000.

“It’s been a slow process, but it’s been amazing to watch the interest, both locally and nationally, grow,” said Triplette, a former Team Blonde captain and now event chairwoman.

The women try to keep it fun. The quotes on their team website pages exemplify that.

Team Blonde’s quote from Donatella Versace: “I love the strength of white blonde. Some people talk about having disasters coloring their hair. In my opinion, you can never have a blonde disaster.”

Team Brunette’s quip from Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam: “Brunettes are full of electricity.”

For the last five years, the brunettes have been victorious.

But the blondes remain hopeful.

“Just like the elections, there may be a massive shake-up,” Mayka said.

Those who participate in the game, from the players and coaches to the cheerleaders and event coordinators, have a variety of career backgrounds. Some work on the Hill, others run their own companies. Their one unifying factor is their dedication to the game and spreading the word about Alzheimer’s.

Many of the women involved have stories about how the disease touched their lives.

Anne Brady, deputy chief of staff for Rep. Mark Schauer (D-Mich.), started playing as a way to support Abbott and other friends who had family members with Alzheimer’s. Since then, she has watched as her own aunt died from it.

“She wasn’t diagnosed for a long time, and it was painful to watch,” said Brady, who was quarterback for Team Blonde until she started working on the administrative side. “Watching my aunt have it made it a bit more real.”

Christiana Gallagher, legislative director for Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), got involved last year after she met members of Team Blonde who were enthusiastic about the cause. Since her grandmother has Alzheimer’s, she wanted to do something to give back. For Gallagher, fundraising has been the most important thing she has experienced.

“You collect the personal stories of the people who donate,” Gallagher (Team Brunette) said. “Almost all of them have been touched in some way, and you carry that with you.”

The game will be played at 2 p.m. Saturday at George Washington University’s Mount Vernon Athletic Complex. Tickets are $20. For more information, visit www.blondesvsbrunettes.org.