She has a passion for friendly, recreational soccer — but no local outlet.
She’s trying to change that latter circumstance, and today, I’m lending a hand.
Whittier is looking for soccer moms and soccer grandmas who are interested in playing the sport for the fun of it. Experience is great, but not necessary. A desire to have fun, learn and get some exercise is.
“Walking is boring. Running is boring. I couldn’t get myself onto a treadmill,” Whittier told me over coffee one recent morning. “I’m not a gym person.”
With soccer, on the other hand, there’s a social aspect because there’s a team. It has a ball to focus on, and a unity of purpose — get it into a goal.
On a soccer field, “there’s sort of a zone for me,” Whittier explains. “Time doesn’t exist.”
But if recent history here is any indication, the odds seem stacked against Whittier’s efforts to form a women’s league.
Currently, there’s an indoor league for women that plays Sunday nights at The Edge, a former ice-skating rink off Thirlane Road. It numbers four teams of seven to 10 players each, including one from Hollins University.
Some of those women also play outdoor soccer in a men’s over-35 league. Daria Goode, who plays in both leagues, estimates the number of local women players at around 30.
That’s way too few to form a women’s outdoor league, which likely explains why at least three efforts to organize and sustain one have failed in recent years.
All of those launched with high hopes, “and eventually it would fall apart,” said Lynn Cochran, coordinator and manager of the Roanoke Valley Adult Soccer League, also called RASL.
“Women are committed to their families,” Cochran told me. “They just can’t make the time commitment.”
Goode, 39, is an example of that. “I have one hour a week,” she said.
“Women are stretched in about 500 different ways,” Goode told me. “I’m a single mom, I have two kids, they play sports, I coach them both. I have a house to own, a full-time job and a dog. It’s not like we have a lot of discretionary time.”
There’s a second hurdle Whittier faces. That has to do with the level of competition.
The woman who already are playing, such as Goode, are pretty competitive.
Whittier is not. It’s been 10 years since she’s played the game regularly.
Her joints are a bit stiffer now, her limbs slower to react. The next time she walks onto a field, it will be with ace bandages wrapped around her ankles and knees.
“There are those who play sports for the fun of it, and there are those who play for the win of it,” she told me, putting herself squarely in the first category. You could say she’s looking for a bunch of duffers.
On the other hand, she has experience in this endeavor. Way back in 1985, Lansing, Mich., also had no women’s outdoor soccer league. Whittier was living there then. So she started one.
“It took two years of my life and couldn’t have happened without six other women who were willing to be part of the first board,” she said.
Twenty-six years later, the Lansing Area Women’s Soccer League is still going strong.
It launched with six teams and today has 15 spread over two divisions — open and recreational.
Of course, Lansing is larger in terms of population. With roughly 300,000 people, the Roanoke Valley Metropolitan Statistical Area is only about two-thirds the size of Lansing’s.
Still, all Whittier needs to form a women’s league is 100 women interested in playing soccer. She’s already rounded up about 50. At an initial meeting, they decided on a name: Roanoke Valley Women’s Soccer. They need 50 more women to get a league going.
Truth is, Whittier is looking for women who are age 40 and up, she’ll take whoever she can get and go from there. The minimum age is 18.
Beginners get training, practice and coaching sessions.
She’s rented a field for two afternoons next month, and she’s inviting all interested women to show up.
“We’re going to hope there’s no snow and there’s no rain,” Whittier said.
If you’re interested, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.