The usual turnout of fans for a McLean Redshins soccer game is a handful of husbands and kids. The women's team plays on a field tucked behind Cooper Intermediate School, and they've probably never mustered a crowd of more than 50. They don't even have a sponsor.
Yet three weeks ago they packed up their uniforms and paid their own way to Houston. They came back with the United States Soccer Federation/Budweiser National Challenge Cup for women over 30.
Already one of the top women's amateur teams in the country, the Houston victory made them the top team of women over 30.
A congenial group of housewives and professional women, the Redshins may not get much attention in the Washington area, but they take their game very seriously. They play every Saturday in the spring and fall, practice two nights a week and train all year round.
Organized by Karen Fiorello and Sue Torok in 1976, the Redshins are the local veterans of newly popular women's soccer teams. Some of the remaining original players from 1976 made up the nucleus of the group that played in Houston. Because some regular Redshin players are under 30, the team was permitted under USSF rules to borrow several local over-30 players for the championship games.
The Redshins chose their hired guns wisely: One of them, 38-year-old Janet Luxford of Oakton, scored four of the Redshins' five goals during the two championship games, performing "incredible physical contortions" to do so, according to Coach Gary Rogan.
Fiorello, 40, is a cool-headed McLean housewife who spends the off-season at a home in California. Torok, 39, just received a graduate degree in fitness and is raising two teen-agers. Redshin Coach Gary Rogan describes the two as the "team psychologists."
Some of the other longtime players are co-captain Nina Thompson, 37, an ex-Olympic swimmer who is now a Bethesda housewife; Diana Parker, 32, the team's lanky, 6-foot goalie, once a nationally ranked junior tennis player and now a chemist at the National Institutes of Health; co-captain Olivia Milholland, 39, a McLean housewife described by a teammate as "petite and graceful and fast as the wind"; and Sandy Simmers, 41, a Great Falls housewife and part-time cabinetmaker regarded as one of the team's best players, despite her own modest assessment that she's "a washed-up jock."
The Redshins generally turn aside questions about their lives off the field, claiming they've been trivialized in the past by stories that feature the ages of their children more prominently than their win-loss record. They want you to know that they may be amateurs, but they're not dabblers.
"We're not just housewives getting out our frustrations," says Simmers. "Soccer takes a lot of time, it really does. Husbands are neglected, gardens, and even work, I think, sometimes."
Players run, lift weights, play tennis and other sports on days when they're not practicing. They practice soccer indoors on a wood floor during the winter off-season, sessions that are particularly tough on Parker, who's known for her spectacular diving saves at the net.
Rogan, a former all-America soccer player himself, says his players are exceptionally fit. "They could play a team of 19-year-olds, fitness-wise," he says.
Because women's soccer wasn't offered when his players were in school, Rogan says team members don't have the skills of some younger women who've played soccer since childhood. Some team members actually learned to play soccer through their children, yet they've managed to qualify for the national championship games four times.
Rogan commented on this year's USSF finals with wonderment: "I really don't know why they won, except that they really wanted to."
The presence of Thompson and Parker, who had national reputations in other sports, motivates the rest of the team, he said. "They feed on those backgrounds," said Rogan. "They play above their heads at times. They want to win."
Winning is important, but staying together as a team is paramount, say the players. "The team is like a family," says Parker.
But winning and staying together may someday become mutually exclusive. Already, there have been problems. One coach left for another team last year when the Redshins rebelled against his plan to replace nine older players with younger recruits.
The Redshins faced their former coach's aggressive young team this spring. During the game, recalled Sue Torok, they heard someone shout from their opponent's sidelines: "Come on you guys! They're just a bunch of old ladies!"
"That just got us so hot they didn't have a chance," says Fiorello.
So far, age has not held the Redshins back from anything, but some of the older players are concerned that it eventually will and have talked about splitting off into a separate squad and playing in a lower division.
For now though, the Redshins are reveling in the moment. They're still celebrating their Houston victory, with the official team bash--a Texas-style barbecue--set for Friday night. They'll really be cutting loose, says Milholland--all you can eat and drink, plus game films.