The Springfield Roadrunners 13-year-old girls' soccer team had an unusual experience last Sunday. They lost a game, 1-0, to the Braddock Road Galaxy.
It was unusual enough for the Roadrunners to be scored upon at all. The goal, which came in the last five seconds, was the first the team has allowed this season and only the fourth in two seasons. It was equally unusual that the Roadrunners did not score. In the past two seasons, they've ripped opponents for 131 goals.
But to lose! That was something foreign to the Roadrunners who, since they began as team in 1979, have won virtually every local, state and regional championship for girls in their age group. It was their first loss after 22 consecutive games won or tied, and their 20th defeat in 152 games played -- an incredible record that has earned 17 championship trophies.
The Roadrunners are the superpower of their age group in the Washington Area Girls Soccer League (WAGS), which consists of more than 100 travel teams for girls aged 10 to 18. Results from tournament play throughout the country show the WAGS teams are among the nation's best, and the Roadrunners are consistently among the top performers in the league.
In tournament games, teams from all over North America have fallen to the Roadrunners. They captured the Virginia Cup state championship in 1979, 1980 and 1981. Last summer they won the U.S. Youth Soccer Association's Eastern Regional Championship in Binghampton, N.Y. -- the highest title a team can win, since there is no national competition. And, last month, the Roadrunners won the WAGS-sponsored Rael Vodicka memorial tournament, the largest girls' soccer tournament in the Western hemisphere, according to Springfield coach Morgan Birge.
The team also has captured tournament titles in Cow Harbor and Northport, N.Y., and in East Brunswick, N.J., where they allowed opponents just three shots on goal for the entire competition. In addition to taking local tournaments in Arlington, Springfield and Fairfax, the Roadrunners went indoors for George Mason University's tournaments in 1979 and 1980 -- and won there, too.
Birge, who organized the team in the spring of 1979, is fond of his players. Given a chance to talk about them, he sounds like a proud father of 16 daughters.
"They're special people, and not just because they're winners," says Birge, who estimates that he devotes 30 to 50 hours a week to soccer. "They're honor students, artists, musicians -- just a well-rounded, beautiful bunch."
Birge, a Defense Department employe, conducts three 90-minute practice sessions each week. There are games every weekend in the spring and fall, and tournaments year-round.
Birge's wife Cathron says she has become accustomed to their soccer-dominated schedule. After a thoughtful pause, she adds, "If the girls are enjoying it and learning, it's worth it."
Birge says it is not always easy to keep 13-year-old minds on the game of soccer.
"At regionals in New York we stayed in a motel and there were some boys' teams there, too," he recalls. "This one team of boys from New Jersey just fell in love, as a team, with our girls. The boys banged on their doors, called them on the phone, and showed off by wrestling in the halls.
"The boys' team got knocked out of the tournament, but about seven of the boys convinced their parents to stay an extra day to see us play. That night we went to a steak house for dinner, and there were these boys, waiting to see the girls.
"Then, while the girls ate dinner, the boys disappeared. When we got back to the motel the boys had decorated a room and put up our banner. They had popcorn and drinks for us all. I never thought I'd get the girls calmed down and into bed."
But he did, and the girls won their biggest title ever -- the Eastern Regional championship -- the next day.
Despite their phenomenal success at a young age, Roadrunners team members seem largely unaffected. In interviews after the Braddock Road game, they talked about soccer's place in their lives.
"I used to get sick of soccer, but I don't any more," said Janean Wargo, an eighth grader at Irving Intermediate School in Springfield. "It's part of my life, but it does take a lot of time -- especially now that there is more homework in school. I play the piano, too -- I have to watch my time."
Will their enthusiasm for soccer survive the choices offered by high school next year?
"If I were to decide not to play soccer it's a decision I would make very carefully," said Kim Cissek, an eighth grader at Key Intermediate School in Springfield who is also an excellent violinist and gymnast.
Teammate and classmate Kelly Chervenak said, "I'm not sure if I'll play in high school."
For now, Chervenak and the rest of the Roadrunners are more concerned with their immediate soccer objectives: winning a league championship (their loss to Braddock Road put them in second place), becoming three-time champions of the George Mason University indoor tournament next month, and raising $5,000 for a December trip to the Junior Orange Bowl Tournament in Miami.
"The trip to Florida will be fun," Chervenak added. "We're stopping at Disney World on the way home!"