New York Times “The Women Who Finally Got Their Chance to Play Soccer” – August 19, 2022

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“The Women Who Finally Got Their Chance to Play Soccer”
Photographs by Laura Thompson for the New York Times
Text by Alexandra Petri
August 19th 2022 
Across the United States, several generations of women are putting on their shin guards, lacing up their cleats and competing on the soccer pitch in ways they couldn’t when they were kids.
Adult Soccer Fest, in Chattanooga, Tenn., is one of the oldest national soccer tournaments for adults, with age divisions ranging from 30 and over to 70 and over.
Many players, particularly those in divisions for athletes over 60, are discovering the sport anew after growing up in a world before Title IX, the tandmark gender equality legislation that opened doors to athletics for women and girls.
Before Title IX passage in 1972, and in the Years immediately after, girls’ sports were mostly limited to gym classes or playing on boys’ teams, if they were even allowed.
Many athletes who grew up before Title IX later found sports like soccer through their children. As youth participation rates soared, more women went from the sidelines to joining their own local leagues.
In Chattanooga, players proudly displayed their ice packs.
“You can’t go back in time, ” said Monica Vasquez, who wasn’t at the Soccer Fest but plays on several teams in the Los Angeles area. “Even though my body is 61, my mental is like — I feel like I am 16 again or 20 again.”
Sharon Murray, 74, was acutely aware of the unlevel playing field for girls when she was young. “You didn’t have as much as the boys did, and you felt it,” said Murray, a retired teacher from Antelope, Calif.
“Team sports are really fun,” said Christie Williams, 68, who was a senior in high school when Title IX passed. She started playing in her late 40s, inspired by her kids. “It opened up those opportunities for girls younger than me,” she said of Title IX.
Lynn Sims was around 37 when she played on her first organized team. “I was enthralled with the uniform,” Sims, 72, said. “When I started, I patterned myself -– because I didn’t know any better – – after the N. F. L. defensive backs,” she added.
Some players have found mentorship with their teammates and other players, fine-tuning their skills and improving their game together.
Against younger opponents, some older women say they noticed more technical skill and finesse.
The tournament, organized by the United States Adult Soccer Association, draws crowds of supporters, including many people watching the mothers and grandmothers to cheer them on when they were younger.
The players share in new triumphs and failures in a sport that shifted its gender balance significantly in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Some of the bonds follow them off the field. “I don’t find that in any other part of my life,” said Sherry Knighton, 74, a retired flight attendant from Sanger, Texas.
Off the pitch, many of the routines look a lot like those in the thousands of recreational sports leagues across the country.
Laura Thompson is freelance photographer weekend with the New York Times based in Nashville.
Produced by Jonathan Ellis, Oskar Garcia and Elijah Walker.