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The Endless Season – Girl’s Soccer – Why It Matters
You know how hot it was. You really had to WANT to be there. And they’ve done it, too, on the baked fields that stretch about a half-mile west of the huge indoor complex south of Rt 30 near Coatesville. Of nearly a dozen games on Tuesday night, all but one are girls games. The freshly defeated team leaves the field, their coach leading them down the embankment to an empty seat where he chastises them for their lackluster effort. “We have another shot on Thursday,” he tells them. “Fire it that way again and you can forget about getting those letters from colleges. They’ll be using the back of our programs to write down the names of the other teams . . .”
United Sports Center, mid-February, 8:00 p.m.:
Three of the indoor matches are played by pre-teen girls’ teams. At the adjacent Lightning-Fast gym, speed training consultants to professional and amateur teams, a petite championship trainer named Shannon Grady, who is also a professional runner, is closing up professional shop when a woman walks in with her daughter. asks to sign her up for another speed clinic. The girl is ten. I ask Shannon how young she has them. Eight.
Blame Title IX if you will. NEWSWEEK yes, but for other reasons, His Honor George Will repeated the lament that the initiative was a “train wreck” that brought female athletes into college sports at the expense of established male programs. Boo-hoo! The 1999 Women’s World Cup triumph would have happened without Title IX, the throne continued, because the application of the 1972 legislation was not codified and enforced for more than a decade, when women’s sport had already flourished in its own right. NEWSWEEK subsequently balanced its spin on Title IX by putting dumbbell curling Michelle Kwan on the cover, and in its “Gamma Girls” cover story, rightly credited Title IX with enabling well-groomed teenage girls who weren’t back. -stabbing the handle-queen or basket-case. Go ahead, blame Title IX for the hordes of Type A parents eyeing athletic scholarship dollars. But if you look a little deeper, you’ll realize that’s a small price to pay for the rewards of the girl soccer mania going on around us.
Like many of us of a certain age, I remember when football was a boys’ fall sport, reluctantly included as a supplement to private school football. You haven’t seen the “pick up” of football games that you do with basketball or football. And the girls played field hockey. As the growth of soccer in this country has paralleled the growth of women’s sports, it seems that the intersection was inevitable: no other sport offers all girls the same wide-open opportunities and possibilities.
ALYSSA- my niece, was much less social than her older twin sisters. Small but strong, she had no team sports experience at 10 when I signed her up for the Lionville Youth League in soccer in an effort to open her up. Because she signed up late, she was included in the game for the first time on the field. She knew nothing about the positions and the rules (“What position do you play?” I asked just before she walked in. “I’m the captain,” she said), but she made up for it with such agility and aggression. the coach was in tears when I moved her to the travel team a year later.
It doesn’t have to be big. Or tall. Or strong. They may not possess the natural gifts that separate Mary Lou Rettons and Michelle Kwans from their peers at the start. There are no expensive lessons, equipment, clothing or equipment. Give her a few yards of space and a ball and she can be busy for hours. It’s as democratic, equal opportunity as it gets. Her sport is not a “girl’s sport” or some other segregated subset, but a universal game, the biggest in the world. And now, like the generation of boys before her, she has her own idols. Some, like Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain, are icons, household names, drawing crowds wherever they go. Some, like Philadelphia’s Heather Mitts and Lorrie Fair (both models), are gorgeous enough to become sex symbols. And hard? Oh yes, feminine but tough at the same time. Best of all, he’s tough.
FELICIA – Another petite, shy girl, younger and much less physically aggressive than Alyssa, this dark-eyed beauty tended to shrink from the inevitable football collisions. But she’s on the Phoenixville United team coached by Stassi Theodoropoulos, himself something of a local legend in youth soccer training. A former professional club player in Europe, Stassi, 54, lives the sport and has an abundance of excited energy that he spends coaching several teams, including the girls’ varsity at Villa Maria Academy. His work with Phoenixville United made them a machine that beat most of their opponents, including some senior girls teams. And Felicia? She too has grown up, her shyness a distant memory as she now tears into any opponent that stands in her way.
There are school teams. There are local clubs such as the Lionville Youth Association and the Phoenixville Area Soccer Club. There are larger organizations like the Intercounty Soccer League and the Philadelphia Area Girls’ Soccer (PAGS) that provide the framework for most league play throughout the region. It all adds up to an impressive tapestry that grows stronger every week, and you don’t have to look very hard to see the evidence. New pitches are popping up everywhere and you’re likely to drive past a girls game every weekend or evening.
Charlestown Park, Phoenixville, October:
Now with autumn, the field has little rest. Whether it’s Saturday or Sunday, before one game ends, other teams arrive and warm up on the sidelines. It’s the same as down the road at the Lionville Youth Association. Not to mention the schools. It’s the same everywhere. And once girls reach adolescence, many of them play for their schools and league teams. Even Stassi with all her energy can’t match that. With the main season in full swing, he had to hand over his beloved United team while he devotes himself full-time to the Villa Maria girls. But they are in good hands, he assures me, and he will keep an eye on them all.
In an editorial I wrote for Women’s Physique World in 1999, I called our Women’s World Cup win the best day in women’s bodybuilding: “What else can you call it when America is dominated by an ecstatic young woman who rips off her shirt and flexes . triumphantly in front of the whole world and no one questions it?” A new paradigm of physical acceptability was ushered in with these new heroines, I said, “and that’s significant to us because their prominence is forever associated with a strained, sweaty, muddy quadriceps, bone-crunching collision and total effort. He’s raw muscle.” , shown in the feature. And that’s why he needs no excuses. A lady? Ha! Tell Mia she’s not ladylike!”
Charlestown Park, Phoenixville, early April:
April? That’s right, it’s early April…a raw, rainy Saturday afternoon, but the girls at Stassi’s United are loving it. Rain and mud are part of the fun. They’ve just shut down the other team on a four-zip, and despite the rain, they’re happily kneeling on a blanket and goofing off for some post-game photos. Those other people huddled in the rain don’t seem to be enjoying it. But that’s okay…they’re just adults. What do they know about entertainment?
It can only get better. Our local heroes, the Philadelphia Charge, completed another stunning season last year, leading the league going into the final week. We head into this year’s Women’s World Cup with tens of thousands more devotees than last year, many of whom were destined for the same fields. It will turn up the volume on a new generation of superstars who are pushing the bar of physical possibility even higher. A young league girl in the midst of this growing swarm enjoys the freedom her mother only dreamed of, a future unfettered by outdated notions of physical correctness, athletic fitness, and the boundaries of femininity. From the mud and dust of his local lawn, through the scrapes and bruises of countless collisions, he can see. And he can float.
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