Sunday, July 18, 1999

World Cup team whips girls into soccer frenzy

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Ask the Delhi Hotshots who Mia Hamm is, and the five little girls jump up and down like they've eaten a bag of sugar.

        “I watched all the games. She's my favorite,” 8-year-old Allison Ahlers blurted out. “I want to be on TV like her.”

        Skip over two fields to the Lakota Firebirds. There isn't a team member they don't know. They all slept over at 7-year-old Taylor DeMaio's house to watch the U.S. play Brazil.

        What does 8-year-old Firebird Megan Heimbuch want to be when she grows up?

        “My goal is to be a famous soccer star,” she said, her head tilted shyly to the side. “Like Mia Hamm.”

        Fawning over sports stars isn't a boy thing anymore now that the members of the U.S. women's soccer team are national celebrities. Their exciting march to win the World Cup ended a week ago Saturday when they beat China after two overtimes. Along the way, they've become inspiration to a growing mass of soccer-playing girls who see a real future in the sport.

        Briana Scurry and Brandi Chastain are universal names to the hundreds of girls trying out for teams and competing in the 3v3 Soccer Shootout this weekend at Fairfield's Joyce Park. Many went to the games in Chicago.

        “They give you something to strive for. For girls now, being a big-time soccer player is a lot more realistic,” said 14-year-old Jodi Hurst, who tried out for the Fairfield Flames.

        Since the World Cup brought women's soccer into everyone's homes, Cincinnati's branch of the Soccer Association for Youth (SAY) has been getting tons of phone calls from girls wanting to learn how to play.

        “The thing that just started this year is how young the girls are who want to play,” said Melanie Bates, president of the East Cincinnati SAY. “Parents are calling now for girls as early as preschool.”

        Although the World Cup victory cemented the popularity of soccer among girls, it has been increasing in pop ularity for the last decade.

        “Everyone thinks this is a new phenomenon, but this team didn't come out of nowhere,” said Ginger Rodeghero, who runs a girl's soccer camp in Morrow. “If you go into the communities, tons of girls have been playing hard for years. Only now they have someone on TV to look up to.”

        For the girls who have been playing since they were 4, the success of the women's team inspires them to play harder. “We've always been heavy into soccer, but when my kids watched the games, it made them want to go to practice and it made them look forward to playing on Saturday,” said the Hotshots' coach Kevin Braun. “They're more aggressive than the boys are now.”


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