Historically black and proud | At Spelman, women’s soccer pushes beyond expectation

From left, Ashley Hamilton, coach Philmore George and Rabi Jamar, on Aug 21.

For their part, both Hamilton and Jamar say they took to the game naturally at elementary-school age. They followed the course for young players, learning at recreation level and building toward commitment to year-round traveling teams while simultaneously playing in high school. Hamilton’s talents grew in one of the most soccer-saturated areas in the United States, in Plano, Texas, outside Dallas. She competed at Plano East Senior High School, among America’s largest public high schools, with an athletic pedigree that includes graduates Lance Armstrong and Lee Nguyen of PSV Eindhoven and the U.S. national team.

Jamar attended a similarly well-regarded school in Pittsburgh, Schenley High School, which counts Andy Warhol as an alumnus. (Warhol was not a footballer, but he did execute well-known silk-screen portraits of Pelé.) Jamar felt the need to reduce her time commitment to soccer during secondary school.

“I had no idea what my interests were outside of soccer,” she says. “I didn’t know what I would major in. If I had a knee injury and I was out, what would I do with my life? It came down to the point I really wanted to find out what I was interested in and what I want to go to school for.”

The two have helped build a Spelman program that entered Division III competition in 2002. With results on the field slow to come—early multiple-goal losses, especially to regional rival Agnes Scott College in Decatur, remain fresh in memory—the side improved gradually with a growing pool of players with club-soccer experience. Practices became more competitive. Attendance at Herndon Stadium, the previous home of the WUSA’s Atlanta Beat, grew from handfuls to some 100—George confesses a need for more boosterism—within a cavernous facility constructed for the 1996 Olympic Games, then occupied by the Morris Brown gridiron team.

Then Spelman notched a breakthrough result last fall when it defeated Agnes Scott, 2–1, in a semifinal at the Great South Athletic Conference tournament. Spelman recovered from an early 0–1 deficit with goals in the 29th and 47th minutes. It lost the final, which would have gained it a place in the national Division III tournament, 0–5 to Maryville of Tennessee. Hamilton remembers:

It was really exciting. I don’t think anyone expected it. I think we gained a lot of respect that game. … I don’t think the finals were necessarily in our head. We were really just trying to beat Agnes Scott, because that’s one of our biggest rivals. They’re right up the street from us, and we had never beaten them before. … We got a little notch under our belt.

Following eight victories, two draws and five losses in 2006, George predicts additional surprises for the coming season.

Spelman College campus, 2005. Founders of the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary, the school’s original name, viewed education as a “liberating force” for blacks 20 years after emancipation.

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