This time, they get to play too.
by Joanne O’Sullivan . photos by Matt Rose
For a woman who’s into swimming or running, a quick adrenaline fix is just a matter of finding the time. A tennis player? She just needs to find a partner. But for those who play team sports like soccer, it’s not so easy. How do you round up ten people for a friendly little match?
If you’re Molly McMillan, you start pick-up soccer matches. And now, 30 years after she did that, dozens of Asheville-area women are coming out to play.
Once women graduate from college, their options for team sports shrink dramatically. There’s a U.S. Women’s national soccer team and several professional women’s leagues. But even at the highest levels of play, those leagues struggle for sponsorships.
Locally, says McMillan, a former Warren Wilson women’s soccer coach, post-collegiate women athletes have always had to improvise. She’s part of a group that started playing pick-up soccer at spots around Asheville starting in 1979. Originally formed through Warren Wilson College, the group frequently changed locations, settling “wherever there was some grass,” she says. In the ‘90s, says McMillan, the group’s numbers dwindled, largely due to two other challenges in post-collegiate women’s sports: injuries and busy schedules. The group needed to invite men to keep enough players on the field. It worked. But sadly, at first, she needed to enforce what sounds like a playground rule: “You’ve got to pass to the girls.” Men have been welcome at her pick-up games since, but her crew has had to turn away college boys who get too competitive.
Friendly, laid-back play is a hallmark of pick-up soccer. If you’re used to something high-intensity, it can take getting used to—no matter what your gender. Warren Wilson soccer coach and athletic director Stacey Enos, a Women’s U.S. Soccer Team member (1985-88) and UNC player, says she has a blast kicking around on a beautiful Sunday morning at Asheville’s Memorial Stadium. But going from ultra-competitive games to casual ones threw her for a loop at first. “I had to let go of the desire to play at the next level,” she says of pick-up matches in Asheville. “Once the fun of the game returned for me, I found no matter where I traveled, there is always a game being played.”
Interest in pick-up soccer in Asheville seems to have really—pardon the pun—picked up recently. Especially after Amy Erde led a “revenge of the soccer moms” in the late ‘90s. The Arden mom of elementary school-age kids got fed up hearing parents shout negative comments at their kids across the soccer field. “Her thought was like, ‘It’s not as easy as it looks. You should try it yourself,” says Madhu Schmid, an Asheville mom who joined Erde around 2002. After a few years squaring off with high school girls and going through basic training camps, around a dozen soccer moms have started a women-only league that plays in an indoor arena in Black Mountain on Sunday nights. Schmid now organizes that league. She says the moms hesitated at first to let in younger members, worrying that 20-year-olds would run circles around them. But as some women have dropped out, younger women fill in, which turns out to be a good dynamic. Besides, says McMillan, older members have at least one advantage: “We’re their mothers’ age, so we get to yell at them to pass the ball,” she jokes.
For more information on pick-up soccer in Asheville, call Molly McMillan at 828-298-5088. For info on the women-only league, call Madhu Schmid at 828-280-6114.