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Commentary Mar 28, 2014

Lebolt: Mothers of the Game

WendyLeBolt-HeaderBefore there was Abby. Before there was Mia. Before, even, there was Michelle, there was Chris Reynolds.

You probably haven’t met Chris; in fact you probably have never heard of Chris. I was lucky enough to strike up a conversation with her as she circled the indoor track at a local sports facility. Still trim and athletic, Chris laments her “out of shape” body that shows the wear of decades of sport competition. But the story she has to share is really quite amazing.

Chris and her teammates formed a national women’s soccer team before there was a national women’s soccer team. She played in the early to mid 1980’s for the McLean Redshins (Va.), an over-30 team in the National Cup tournament. “While the team won the tournament several times, I played on only one of the winning teams, in 1984,” Chris writes.

Chris has recorded her recollections of the formation of this team and her growing love and support for this game. She is, in my mind, a completely unsung hero. So, let the singing begin! Here in Chris Reynolds’ own words, is the story of The Mothers of the Game

***

My name is Chris Reynolds.  A few years ago, I took the opportunity to visit the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, New York.  I had driven by on many occasions while vacationing near Cooperstown, but was unable to stop until this summer.  I had a personal reason for my visit.

In the early to mid 1980s, I played on the McLean Redshins.  I was hoping to find memorabilia pertaining to the Over-30 Women’s National Cup teams, but was disappointed.  There was no information on the early days of women’s soccer.  The exhibits seemed to promote the notion that women’s soccer had started in the 80s, quickly achieving international prominence and producing the 1991 World Cup team, and that no women had played competitive soccer much before that.  I protest.  I was one of thousands of women who played for years before that, and I want to tell my story.

THE MOTHERS OF THE GAME – ONE STORY

In 1978, I was a 29-year-old housewife living in Falls Church, Virginia.  I had a wonderful husband and two small children. I was a tennis player, and a competent and enthusiastic athlete. I had met another young mother like myself, and we became tennis partners.

She was wonderfully British. Growing up, she had been steered toward tennis as a sport fit for girls, but her heart was on the pitch with her brother and his soccer team. We had many things in common, melding well as a tennis team, and playing in tournaments together. Our children and husbands were also compatible.

One March morning, she called me and said that some of the mothers of boys on a soccer team coached by her husband were getting a team together. A scrimmage had been scheduled; would I like to play?  Having played field hockey in high school and college, I was sure it would be easy. After all, that had been only seven years before. Surely I was still in shape!

I struggled to run a lap around the field, had no idea what I was doing, got kicked in the shin, had blood drawn and was completely hooked on soccer.

To make a long story short, I struggled to run a lap around the field, had no idea what I was doing, got kicked in the shin, had blood drawn and was completely hooked on soccer.  The team that was formed that day was the Great Falls Rapids.  Our coach was the goalkeeper’s husband, his credentials being willingness and having grown up playing soccer in Brooklyn, NY.

Our group of 25- to 35-year-olds learned a surprising amount in a short period of time.  Of course perhaps this was because we had our practices two or three mornings a week while most of our children were in school.  Mine were younger, and on occasion, I scrimmaged while carrying my year-old daughter.

[ +New York Times, 1985: What’s a Mother to Do? Go Out and Play Soccer ]

Coaches came and went. Our second was a former PE teacher who lived in the community. She took the time to learn the game from books, and though she never would play with us, she taught us what she knew and instilled a greater love for the game in us.

Our third coach was another husband, this one the husband of my tennis partner. He really knew the game, having grown up playing in Iran, and for years he had coached a very successful boys traveling team. He taught us many practical skills, as well as how to assess the playing conditions as we approached the pitch, to observe where the sun was, how to watch our opponents warm up to see who their most competent players were.

His coaching was not easy on his wife, who bore the brunt of his frustration with the rest of the team, but she always had a wonderful attitude and remained calm. She was our only natural left-footer, and held a position of high honor on the team. In succeeding years, we broke in coaches four and five, the last one being another Brit. Each coach brought more magic to the game and gave us yet another level of competence. We won some, lost some, tied a few, and had a thoroughly good time.

All of us made sacrifices to play this wonderful game. Most of us were married, with children, and husbands were supportive or not in many ways. Some came to games and ran a flag on the sidelines. Some coached. Others minded the children on the sidelines or at home.  Many complained that dinner was going to be late.

I was married to the world’s most supportive husband.  He had always appreciated my athleticism and made it possible for me to concentrate on learning and playing soccer by taking over active parenting duties while I attended my games. He learned to cook (now a gourmet cook!) and taught our children to cook as well. I was the envy of my teammates, as I was the only player who didn’t have to go home and cook dinner. I lived a magical life.

I was the envy of my teammates, as I was the only player who didn’t have to go home and cook dinner. I lived a magical life.

The more I played, the more I became interested in expanding the game for women, and became active in the local league organization.  In 1981, I received a letter, asking me to serve on a committee to choose an all-star team (I still have it). The purpose was to develop a team to play competitive matches against teams from other regions, with the object of some day forming a national women’s team to compete internationally. It was the beginning of all the splendid women’s soccer we have seen since the first World Cup victory in 1991.

In 1982, I was asked by a former member of the Rapids team to play in the over-30 tournament with her new team, the McLean Redshins.  She was a nationally ranked paddle-tennis player, a tournament tennis player and a former squash racquets champion. Another player on this team had swum in the 1960 Olympics in Rome. A third player had won the Wimbledon juniors singles tournament.

USASAThis group was very competitive. While my only credentials were that I played tournament tennis, I loved the game of soccer and was thrilled to be asked to join that company. As long as soccer was involved, I was an easy touch. When my friend asked, of course I was available, and I joined them enthusiastically. We practiced for several evenings before beginning to play regional matches, and we started winning.  Eventually, we were among the final four teams and were bound for Chicago. Sadly, we lost our semifinal game.

I played soccer and more soccer.  In one season, I played for the Rapids, “Hotfeet” (a coed team in Maryland), a coed “seven-a-side” team from El Salvador, and tournaments with the Astros, another women’s team in our league. I had injuries, bruises, blown-out kneecaps, a rotator cuff injury, yet still I played.

We all played injured from time to time. Many of us (there were nearly 200 players in our league, one of several for women in the Washington, DC area) juggled family and other responsibilities to stay on the field. We were addicted to the game, to the sun and fresh air, to the friendships we made, to the joy of being sweaty, exhausted, and fulfilled by our sport.  The saddest part of leaving the game for many of us was letting go of the close relationships we formed with our teammates, coaches and opponents.

[ +View a list of past National Cup winners here ]

In 1984, I was asked to play with the Redshins in the national tournament.  We practiced, traveled for hours to play in regional matches, and won a spot in the final four. This time the tournament was to be played in St. Louis, Mo.  We won the semi and earned a place in the final where we beat a team from Dallas 1-0.

What could have been sweeter for a team from the Washington, D.C. area?  I was a national champion! My team was the best in the country that year. For me, it was a singular accomplishment.

Almost all of us came to the game well into our maturity. Most of us were mothers, in fact. In that time and place, we became the mothers of the game of women’s soccer.

In 1985, we tried it again, and though we earned the right to return to St. Louis, we lost in the semifinals. My career at the national level was over. What remained, however, were three more years of wonderful soccer games with my friends from the Great Falls Rapids. By this time, my delightful British buddy had left the game. She had had a third child and retired for good. Four of those who had founded the team remained until the summer of 1988, and one by one, we, too, hung up our cleats.

What did soccer do for me? There are far too many things to recount. I played a total of 12 years, but given all the teams I played on, I think I played more than 20 years’ worth. I became affiliated with my community’s youth athletic association as an administrator of the game. I lined fields, scheduled referees, and became a referee.

I coached my son for 12 years, forming a truly special relationship with a terrific person. Mostly, soccer has given me lasting friendships and the unique experience that we share. Almost all of us came to the game well into our maturity. Most of us were mothers, in fact. In that time and place, we became the mothers of the game of women’s soccer.

Sincerely,

Chris Reynolds

 

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