The soccer moms of the 1990s, the swath of suburban women heavily courted by SUV manufacturers and driven to prominence by politicians, might be a thing of the past.
Sure, armed with orange slices and sports drinks, they still shuttle their children to and from athletic events. They still wield the purchasing power that makes them such a targeted consumer group. And maybe, maybe, they still sport T-shirts with slogans such as: "I don't have a life. My kid plays soccer."
But now, at least at the Soccerdome in Jessup, soccer moms have left the sidelines and taken to the field.
They are the Red Hot Mamas and the Mama Mania. The Hot Flashes and the Neon Flash. The Luna Ticks and the Chitas. Collectively, the Friday night indoor soccer league is known as the Soccer Moms. But being a mother is not a prerequisite. The league stipulates only that players must be older than 25 and can't have played college ball in the past five years. Still, most of the players have children, and that bond sets the tone.
"When we have women who really take it seriously, we talk to them," said Diane Fischer of Ellicott City, 52, who dubs herself "the old mama" among her Red Hot Mamas teammates. "We say: We want to win -- we're competitive -- but, we don't want to get our legs broken. We still have to get the kids to and from school."
Fischer watched her children play soccer but never played before joining Soccer Moms. Although she isn't fiercely physical, she's fiercely protective of what she calls her "hour."
"Don't mess with my one hour every Friday night. It's our Friday night; it's our one hour. The kids and the husbands can come watch us, or they don't have to come -- it's just our time to have a good time," she said.
The notion of women carving out a time on the field just for themselves has helped the league gain momentum. Before the Soccerdome opened, about eight teams played at the Volleyball House in Columbia. That number has more than doubled to 18, with more than 180 players.
"It's one of our strongest leagues," said Clif Everett, president of the privately owned Soccerdome, which also hosts dozens of children's recreation leagues as well as the Soccer Dads League.
The strong interest among moms was a driving force in the decision to open a Soccerdome in Anne Arundel County, Everett said. That opening is scheduled for early November.
Only four slots are left for teams looking to play at the new Soccerdome, Everett said. Meanwhile, there's a waiting list for teams at the Jessup Soccerdome.
Soccer moms say their status as players gives them an "in" with their kids -- or at least a better understanding of the game their children play.
"The people who don't play soccer, they think this soccer playing thing is easy," said April Walker, 44, a mother of two from Jessup who is an alternate midfielder and goalie for the Shooters. "Once you try it, you know why it looks like everyone's running around in slow motion -- it's tiring."
Her daughter, Amber Cope, 12, plays striker and keeper on a 13-and-under club and acts as an unofficial consultant to her.
"I have a lot of goalie training, so when she's in goal, I usually help her," Amber said.
Her mom plays in an outdoor league as well. But the indoor games, with six players on each side, "aren't so long, so I don't usually get bored watching," Amber said. "It's more interesting. I like watching her."
Regardless of the cachet soccer might earn the moms among their children, "mothers are bonding over something besides their children," Walker said.
For the Old Ladies Soccer Club, the postgame socializing is reason enough to play. Walker's Shooters had just defeated the Old Ladies, 5-2, "but you don't need to report that," said Kelly Schugrue of Millersville, the "baby" of the team at 30. "We had a damned good time."
In high spirits despite the loss, players were heading to a bar for drinks.
Teammate Gail Griffin, 39, of Arnold weighed in, "We'll get the exercise and earn the beer afterwards."
That mantra is echoed by the Mama Mania. Clad in tie-dyed T-shirts, the squad of peppy young mothers often includes their children in the Friday night fun, too. The children are content playing video games at the Soccerdome, and the older ones often watch over the smaller children.
"The kids bug me to come here. They all play their video games," said Kerry Kluckhuhn, 35, a player from Laurel who is sidelined with a foot injury but attends the Friday night games to support her team.
"We make it really social," said Terri McLaughlin, 36, a Laurel mother of three. "For most of us, it's our only night out during the week."
Tailgate parties are held after games. The spectating husbands drift from the bleachers to the parking lot, where they set up camp.
"We have chairs, and one person will bring the water cooler, one person will bring the adult beverages," McLaughlin said.
But the tailgating is just the encore. First, there's soccer.
Like many of her teammates, Kluckhuhn was a beginner when she earned a spot on the Mama Mania, which formed in the spring.
"When somebody said, 'Have you ever played soccer before?' you had to answer no, and you had to not be very good," she said.
But they're learning. The Soccerdome recently began clinics for beginners, and many Mama Mania players jumped at the opportunity.
"We just came out there knowing nothing. We've already learned so much footwork," McLaughlin said.
Her husband, Stephen McLaughlin, said that some of the fathers have considered joining the spinoff Soccer Dads League.
But mostly, he said, they're there for their wives. "If we started our own league, then we'd be doing our own thing," he said.
And the kids? Between video games, children such as 9-year-old Jenna Brewer, a soccer player herself, cheer for the moms -- or so they say.
"Tell the truth. You scream, 'Mommy, I need money,' " said the Mama Mania's Dina Brewer, Jenna's mom.
"Sometimes I scream, 'Go, Mommy,' " Jenna replied.
"You do?" Dina said. "I'm going to listen for that next time."