BALTIMORE - Long before she was deployed overseas, Hilda Clayton was a rising star on the football field. The 22-year-old gained the respect of her sister soldiers on the Baltimore Nighthawks, an independent women's football league. Now that team is mourning the death of the soldier killed on duty in Afghanistan.
Smiling in their team photo, the Baltimore Nighthawks are an impressive group of determined women. But it would take just one text message sent in the middle of the night to knock down even the strongest on this team according to owner Tanya Bryan. She tells ABC2 that's how members of the team learned of Clayton's death, saying, "It's a tremendous shock."
Bryan and her players heard overnight Wednesday that Clayton, a rookie receiver, had died. Clayton, who was based at Fort Meade, died Tuesday in a non-combat related incident. She had been sent overseas just a few months after starting with the team according to Bryan, who told us, "Just when we were getting ready to get into equipment and the rookies were starting to pick their jersey numbers, she found out she was being deployed."
Clayton was one of many Nighthawks who have fought for their country. Bryan says they've always come home. But not this time. Instead, members of the team are dealing with the loss of a woman they considered family.
Teammates Lil Drumgold and Steeley Spencer tell ABC2 Clayton was focused on the field and impressive. The young woman had been recruited to play for the team after being spotted during a flag football game being played at Morgan State. Drumgold says, "She was quiet but she had a presence about her."
Clayton's intensity was apparent in practice and in her work. The fire and passion she brought to the group is something Bryan says the team will miss as they continue on without her. She says, "We won't see the woman back that would jump through the air, do a cartwheel, land in the mud and get up with her glasses on and that's a tremendous loss."
The military is still investigation Clayton's death.