Some of you, like me, probably have played in a soccer league around your town. The league I played in had a very strict roster rule -- three women on the pitch at all times, no exceptions. It was one of those rules in place to make things fair. After all, this was a mixed league I was in. The tough part was getting three women for the team and then knowing they had to play all 90 minutes with no subs. It was a lot to ask.
For the first three years, we were able to find the minimum required each season and when they needed a rest, the team just went down to 10 players on the field. It wasn't the best of solutions, but hey, it worked. This past January, for our winter league, something changed. At the first team "practice" (a.k.a. going to the bar and meeting for the first time) six ladies attended. For us old-timers, the ones who had been on the team for years, it was like the heavens opened up and delivered us a great gift. All six of those women came to every practice and every game. At the end of season party, our team captain asked the group why they decided to join a soccer league in the first place. It was a unanimous answer -- the Orlando Pride coming to town.
This story came to me over the last weekend when my niece came to visit. She wanted to go outside and kick the soccer ball around. I'd been trying for years to get one of my nephews to take an interest in the sport I loved since I married into the family, but no bites. So, obviously when my 5-year-old niece wanted to, I grabbed a ball and went out with her before she changed her mind. Upon going back in the house, I needed to know more. What brought about this sudden interest in soccer? Talking to my sister-in-law, she informed me that ever since they saw some the Pride highlights on the evening news, she's been obsessed with the team and wanting to play herself. I was on the job.
Doing the only thing I could, I looked into some local YMCAs to see what sort of youth soccer programs they provided and find out what options my niece had. The second one I contacted told me they had openings for a short summer league on Saturday evenings. The gentleman gave me the number for the coach who needed players and told me to reach out as soon as possible. When I called him and told him that my niece wished to play, he was thrilled. "Jeremy, this is fantastic," he said. "My daughter is on the team because of Alex Morgan and I was worried no other girls would join."
Turns out there was little fear in that. The team of 16 is half boys and half girls.
This, ladies and gentlemen, shows you the cultural impact of sports. These are just two small samples from a city of wonderful examples. To further my case, a few weeks ago I attended my team's summer opener. I'm not playing this summer due to the impending birth of my child, but I wanted to show my support. When I got to the field, I saw our team had grown from six women to seven. As they were passing the ball around during warm-ups, they were talking about the Pride's upcoming game, complaining about Adrian Heath, and getting tickets to one of the Copa America matches being hosted in Orlando.
So in closing, I'd like to thank the Orlando Pride for inspiring both new generations and current ones to pick up a soccer ball and go play the game that the world loves.