Gone is the shock that came when a girl first joined an all-boy football team. Gone is the surprise that women play professional basketball, men's college soccer and water polo.
It's no big deal anymore.
This weekend, the Burke Soccer Club All-Star Team of 6- and 7-year-old girls played four teams of boys of similar ages in the American All-Star Soccer Tournament at Kincheloe Field in Clifton. Coaches, parents and tournament director Pete England said it was the first time in a Northern Virginia youth soccer tournament that girls had played against boys.
By all accounts, it was no big deal.
For the girls, it was play the boys or not play. No other girls' teams had applied to the tournament.
"The girls were picked as All-Stars and they wanted to play soccer. They are very competitive," said the girls' coach, Barbara Wynn.
Ask Annette Pugin if she likes competing against boys and the 7-year-old replies, "I like to play against the girls and the boys."
No big deal.
McLean '77 All-Star Coach Ted Friel, whose team played the girls Saturday afternoon and who previously had coached girls' soccer for five seasons, said the boys thought it was "fine" to play the girls. "Not a word was said," he said.
No big deal.
Of course, girls versus boys still draws remarks and crowds. Wynn said a lot of people came over to the game Saturday morning because they saw boys playing girls. "The referee even asked me, 'Are you sure you're on the right field?' " she said.
Beyond the girls versus boys, it was a typical Saturday of kids playing soccer and parents boosting and bribing.
Mother to daughter, who was asking for a treat: "On the way home, if you keep your mind on the game."
Father to player: "Come on Diana, tear them up!"
Coach Wynn, when asked just before the game where her team was: "I think some of them are in the bathroom."
Not one of the handful of parents, friends, and curious onlookers expected that these girls would overpower anything but the crowd's emotions. Nearly every time the boys moved the ball skillfully into Burke territory, McLean pushed closer to the goal. Nearly every time the girls kicked the ball up field 10 yards, the boys would chip it back 15 more.
Before the mismatch was over, the girls would see the ball fly into their goal 12 times. And each time, they would run, skip and jump themselves back to midfield, eager to start again. While the boys dominated the game, the girls persistently attacked the ball like a pack of hungry wolves. They were neither intimidated nor discouraged. They remained determined to score.
"Can I go in? Can I go in?" yelled Annette, jumping up and down beside Wynn.
An advantage for the boys was that they had been playing as a team for about a month, and it showed. They played a positioned game, spreading across the field, passing up the sideline and across the field to an unguarded teammate until they were within striking distance of the goal.
The girls, who had played just three practice games together as an all-star team, were in disarray. They followed the ball in bunches, colliding with each other in pursuit of the attacking boys' offense. As a result, they left many a McLean player with plenty of open field. As the ball approached their goal, the girls flooded the center in front of the goalkeeper, while the boys passed carefully across the goal, waiting for the chance to pad the score.
On the sideline, coaches and spectators screamed encouragement to the girls, shouted advice, and winced when the boys scored yet another goal. In a society so focused on winning, it was hard to keep the competition in perspective, even though tournament organizers, the Virginia Independent Soccer Teams Association, emphasized that at this young age it was playing, not winning, that counted.
"I admire their spirit," said Bill Pearl, whose daughter Jennifer was the goalkeeper for the first half. "They're not getting discouraged."
At halftime, Chris and Sheri Braddy drew their daughter aside and told her, "We're so proud of you, Sarah. You're playing so well." And as the girls ran back on the field after the half, Assistant Coach George Getek yelled at his players, "No more Misses Nice Girls!" But the score did not seem to matter to the girls. For 60 minutes, they took their share of the bumps, the hits, the trips, the elbows, and the falls. They didn't complain. They got up, wiped the dirt from their knees and shook off the pain.
It was their choice to play with the boys, and they knew the going would get tough. "After this morning's game, even though they were creamed, my daughter Kale said to me 'I think we can do it, Mom,' " said Carolyn Stevens of Burke.
The girls lost twice more to boys teams, 3-0 and 7-0, and the McLean boys' team ended up tournament winners for their age group.
What the girls had to show for it was a scrape on the elbow, a scratch on the leg and proof once again that contact sports like soccer are not just for boys.