Excavating American soccer fields, uncovering buried layers of sport

Unlike the northern part of town, though, we were Black, White, Latino and Asian. And the kids, White and Black (and some definitely mixed), from the local farming community also came to our school. In 1974, when there was court-ordered busing in Prince George’s County, I remember hearing that the city chose our neighborhood as the one to be bused because we were already used to “integration.” In elementary school, kids from near the D.C. line were bused to our school. In junior high and high school, we were bused to schools near the Beltway that were majority African American. Court-ordered busing ended in 2001.

The county is now predominantly African American and is now the wealthiest Black-majority county in the nation. The unofficial color line in our town has faded, although the line between Prince George’s and Montgomery County, the other Maryland county bordering Washington, seems a little sharper.

In the 1970s soccer was just starting in the Washington area, although some communities, particularly in Virginia, were ahead in skills and organization. The largest all-girls soccer tournament, the annual Rael Vodicka Memorial, organized by the Washington Area Girls’ Soccer League, was first held in about 1975 just when the SBBGC got going. These clubs assisted the SBBGC in associating with FIFA and establishing spring soccer, which the Prince George’s County Boys Club at the time did not organize.

Perhaps unlike these clubs, the SBBGC articulated what could be called a “sport-for-all” philosophy. High-level competitive success was not the goal, although we traveled to and sponsored tournaments and played a lot of soccer. Two of my younger sisters experienced some dissenting coaches, who sought to win at almost all costs. Perhaps that is why they didn’t continue to play in later years. My youngest sister and a friend, on a dare, used their soccer experience to join the high school team—which was a “boys” team with no female counterpart—in the mid-1980s. They were not the first. In 1978, a girl one year ahead of me in high school played defense on the boys’ team.

For me, the club team was a good fit. I managed to combine this with being an athletic trainer for high school teams (volleyball and wrestling), something that would not have been possible had this been the equivalent of a Class I competitive youth team these days. We practiced once or twice during the week and on Saturdays, with games on Sundays. One summer, some of the players went to a soccer camp in North Carolina. The coach, Dr. B, also attended clinics there run by Anson Dorrance, the longtime coach of the powerhouse women’s soccer team at the University of North Carolina. At the time I had no idea who that was, and, to be fair, he was still early in his career.

We did pick up the pace and occasionally contested for the championship in our league, although I don’t think we ever actually won it. It was then that I learned the beauty and satisfaction, even if I didn’t do it that well, of stringing together a series of passes, of faking out an opponent, of give-and-go’s, of weaving down the field, and of a great header. I also learned the frustration of being on a team that at times could not finish, that knocked the ball back and forth in front of the goal endlessly, but could not put it in. And in the process I sustained a torn retina and lots of sprained ankles. My gymnastics coach lamented that he was losing all his athletes to soccer and sprained ankles.

I loved gymnastics and before soccer I thought I would follow in Olga Korbut’s and Ludmilla Tourischeva’s footsteps (despite not having access to the Soviet system of gymnastics production). Unable to really execute them, I would dream of intricate uneven-bar routines in my sleep. Although I continued to dabble in gymnastics until I was 26, I had much more opportunity and ability to link together a series of moves with my foot, the ball and my teammates.

The team is what made it for me. I have remained friends with many of my teammates and my coach over the years. Not all of my friends were on the team, but most of them had been at one point or the other. Given we were from the neighborhood, soccer was not the only point in common. There was Girl Scouts when we were younger and the teen club when we got older. Shared car rides to school (to avoid taking the bus), Advanced Placement English, dissecting cats in biology, trigonometry and pre-calculus. Driving around aimlessly at night on the back roads and waiting overnight in line at the gas pump. Going to the Catholic Youth Organization dances up Route 3. Skipping classes. Smoking cigarettes in between classes and before games (for some of us, not all). I think half of the team smoked. Some still do.

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