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Commentary May 13, 2014

Motherhood is a Contact Sport: McLean Redshins style

WendyLeBolt-HeaderIt’s June of 1983 and the McLean Redshins soccer team is heading to Texas to compete for a national championship. They’ve trained every Saturday plus two evenings a week all year to prepare for their victorious run through State and Regional competitions. Now, they head to Houston in the semi’s and finals.

There are only 18 on the squad, a shallow bench by today’s standards, fixed in March by league regulations. Those players will compete for two 45 minutes halves, limited to 2 subs per half. That turns out to be especially brutal as the semifinal game, played on turf, sees temperatures of 120 degrees. Superior fitness allows them to dominate the very physical 2nd half play to defeat a fine team from California by a single goal. Two days later, they will compete for the Championship, this time on natural grass, and bring home the National Championship trophy.

Next year, they’ll do it again. You’d think the college coaches would come running. They’d be lining the sidelines, scratching on their clipboards, typing into their phones, along with reporters and journalists. But no, it’s 1983 and these are not college prospects, they are winners of the USSF United States Soccer Federation National Amateur Cup, Women’s over-30 division.

Yes, these ladies, who are nearly all mothers, are mostly in their upper 30’s, having given their 20’s to motherhood. Their star striker, Janet Luxford, who scored four of the five goals in the two championship games is 38 years old, has three children and plays a mean game of soccer, performing “incredible physical contortions” according to Coach Gary Rogan (from Washington Post Article, June 20, 1983).

In a previous post, I shared the letter written by Chris Reynolds, a member of several of these championship teams. Thanks to her article, some other Redshins have shared stories, articles, photos and memories from those early years. In honor of Mother’s Day, why not celebrate these women who, kids in tow, spent hours on the fields to lend momentum to the growing interest and popularity of women’s soccer. Chris has given them the moniker: Mothers of the game.

They are proud of their accomplishments on the field and are happy to revisit their story, but they have always downplayed the whole “mother” part. The Redshins “generally turn aside questions about their lives off the field,” writes Susan Schmidt in a 1983 Post article, “claiming they’ve been trivialized in the past by stories that feature the ages of their children more prominently than their win-loss record.” They want to be taken seriously for their physical skill and accomplishment, not because they’re moms but because they’re athletes. “They may be amateur, but they are not dabblers,” writes Schmidt.

Still, the fact that our championship athletes are also mothers continues to amaze us. JP Dellacamera, commentating the shootout for the 1999 FIFA World Cup Final, even says as Fawcett comes to the penalty spot following Overbeck who had buried the first one, “The first soccer mom goes first, here’s the second one.”

Soccer playing dads rarely rate a comment. Championship moms, do.

Dellacamera’s comment seems to open a door for Wendy Gebauer who is doing color commentary. “In the women’s game it’s all about placement…” she says. And the distinctions begin; the conversation changes. As well it should.

Men and women are different. They play the game differently. Men have greater muscle mass which gives them superior strength, power and speed (Let’s be clear: fiber for fiber, male and female muscle fibers generate equal force. Men have more fibers, and therefore generate more force. The stronger sex? Let’s not jump to conclusions.). It’s why we separate the genders in play when competition gets physically fierce. Because of this, women tend to distinguish themselves by developing other qualities: skill, technique, quickness, agility. They play to their strengths, and that doesn’t just mean muscle.

Still, if we get muscled off the ball, we don’t keep it very long. The Redshins coach was wise to play in the First Division of The Washington Area Women’s Soccer League (WAWSL) where his players would be matched up against teams featuring college-aged players. They were “a lot younger and quicker than we were and it helped us physically build up,” Coach Tim O’Donoghue said. He knew that’s what his team would be up against in the USSF National Cup.

Schmidt reported on one game with the over-30’s going against college players in a grudge match. Apparently the overconfidence of the younger side did them in when one shouted, “Come on you guys! They’re just a bunch of old ladies!” Redshin team Captain Fiorella made sure that sealed the upstart’s doom. They had underestimated those moms, and that’s a very dangerous strategy, indeed.

So what is their secret? How can those 30-somethings keep going at that level?

It may be that they’re Moms. They gave their 20’s to having kids and either to starting careers or, as the article notes, to being “housewives” – a term that makes me wince and smile at the same time. But before they were either, they were athletes. So much so that they couldn’t see giving this up, kids, jobs, houses and all. They went to practices and “still got dinner on the table,” Janet (now) Milloy tells me.  But two evenings a week plus Saturdays, kids, spouses and household duties were shelved to allow Mom to pursue her passion and follow her dream. To put sport first for a few hours, while family supported her from the sidelines.

Do we do this today? Can we?

Because there are a lot of moms out there who are sacrificing their all to get three kids to multiple sports, scouts, art classes, clubs and religious activities, and, I wonder, may be losing themselves in the process.

I just love the notion that these women, the McLean Redshins, so enjoyed watching their kids play soccer that they taught it to themselves. Then they poured their whole selves into it. All the while juggling what Moms do. Oh, and by the way, they won four National Championships in the process.

I couldn’t help thinking of this recently as I watched a young infant-toting, Mom striding along the sidelines of an animated scrimmage between two FCV teams. She looked up to see an errant shot headed her way and back-heeled it without breaking stride. Then she continued on to greet the over 30-ish women’s team that was warming up before taking the field next.

Now THAT deserved to make someone’s highlight reel this week, but it won’t. She is just a Mom, doing what she does. She won’t get paid and will never have a sponsor, but she means business. And just for good measure, when that Mom walked away her precious daughter shot me a most delighted smile. She was pretty darn pleased to be at the soccer field. Good things to come.

There is nothing like bearing a legacy. Literally.

I’d like to give a shout out to the women, best I can glean from rosters and photos, who won those over-30 women’s champions in 1983, 1984, 1986, 1988. I hope the McLean Redshins ladies will chime in with additions and corrections. Congratulations and Happy Mother’s Day to all of you!

Sandy Simmers, Karen Fiorello, Sue Torok, Physllis Gardner, Chris Nugent, Diana Parker, Olivia Milholland, Stephanie Hughes, Theresa Bushman, Linda LaGarde, Maureen Park, Denise Carley (Bowie), Katie Splendore,  Zena Cook (Arlington), Sally Bryll, Denise Mishalow, Frances McChesney, Nina Thompson, Janet Luxford, Vicky O’Donoghue, Dawn Eilenberger, Lynn Krahling, Donna Fleagal, Kitty Hughes, Alice Deepe, Sheila Jones, Kate Riepe, D Ellinger, C Murphy. Coaches: Michael Andrews, E McEachron, Gary Rogan,Tim O’Donoghue

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