A Local Life: Mavis Derflinger, 75; pioneered girls' soccer in D.C. region

By Lauren Wiseman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 30, 2010; 6:43 PM

During the late 1960s, long before "soccer mom" entered the American lexicon, Mavis Derflinger was just that.

She shuttled son Rick from one soccer tournament to the next and enrolled her three girls in club-level soccer in Northern Virginia.

She soon began looking for opportunities for her daughters to play on a statewide competitive level, just like her son. But she was disappointed to find no such opportunities in the Washington region.

There were no traveling girls' soccer leagues and no platform for girls to be recruited to colleges. Girls' competitive soccer just didn't exist.

So Mrs. Derflinger, a transplant from England, created her own league with the help of Rael Vodicka. In 1974, the women established Washington Area Girls Soccer, one of the first all-girl soccer leagues in the United States.

Initially it was composed of four clubs in the Washington area - two in Maryland and two in Virginia. It became so successful that Maryland and Virginia created their own state youth associations.

Mrs. Derflinger served as the treasurer of WAGS, as it has become known, and was responsible for acquiring equipment and raising funds by soliciting state associations. She reached out to college coaches to scout potential recruits among WAGS members. Mia Hamm, who became the face of women's soccer in the United States in the 1990s, was a member after she moved to Burke in the 1980s.

WAGS continues to be a prominent part of the girls' soccer circuit.

Mrs. Derflinger, 75, died Oct. 14 at Inova Mount Vernon Hospital in Alexandria of complications from throat cancer.

She left WAGS in the late 1970s and served as president of the Virginia Youth Soccer Association. She became a regional director of U.S. Youth Soccer, where she was responsible for overseeing girls' soccer clubs in 15 states from Vermont to Virginia.

She served as the first female board member of the U.S. Soccer Federation and in 1986 was elected chairman of U.S. Youth Soccer and landed a spot on the U.S. Soccer Federation executive committee.

In these positions, she became an advocate for girls' soccer nationally and internationally.

"Mavis made it possible for girls' soccer to be where it is today," said Adele Dolansky, president of WAGS from 1977 to 1997. "She had a passion for the game, a passion for kids to play soccer, and a passion for girls to have the same opportunity as boys."

According to Larry Monaco, past president of U.S. Youth Soccer, 42 percent of the 3.1 million members of his organization are girls.

"There is not another sport in the U.S. with such a high percentage of females," he said. "A lot of that has to do with Mavis. She pushed hard to have funding for under-19 girls' soccer and to have international tournaments for females."

Many players who played on the under-19 women's national team would go on to win the 1991 and 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup Championships, including Hamm and April Heinrichs, a player who would later become the women's national team head coach.

Mrs. Derflinger also used her influence to persuade the U.S. Olympic Committee to accept women's soccer into its annual sports festival in the early 1990s. By 1996, women's soccer was an Olympic sport, and the U.S. team won the first Olympic gold medal in Atlanta.

As part of her work with the U.S. Youth Soccer Association in the late 1980s, Mrs. Derflinger helped launch Soccer Start, an inner-city youth soccer program that trains coaches and provides equipment and uniforms for start-up teams in poor neighborhoods.

"I can offer [a child] a fun game . . . that he can play without his parents having to lay out a lot of money ," she told The Washington Post in 1990. "And he can belong to something. Children like to belong, to have something to identify with."

In 2004, she was the first woman inducted into the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football Hall of Fame. Five years later, she was elected to the U.S. Youth Soccer Hall of Fame.

Mavis Lillian Garrett was born Sept. 30, 1935, in Northampton, England, and moved to Alexandria in 1955. In the 1970s and '80s, she managed residential and hotel properties, including apartment complexes in Alexandria and a Quality Inn in Rosslyn. She later became a payroll manager for ManTech International in Fairfax County.

Survivors include her husband of 55 years, Richard M. Derflinger of Alexandria; four children, Richard T. Derflinger and Patricia Derflinger, both of Woodbridge, Deborah Stephanian of Manassas and Michelle Bradley of Lake Jackson, Va.; two brothers; a sister; and four grandchildren.

"When I walk around and look at a soccer field and see the number of girls playing this sport, it makes me proud that my mother played such a huge part in the development of girls' soccer," said Rick Derflinger. "All that exists today is an offshoot of what took place in the 1970s and 1980s."

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