Howard County women stay fit, connect through soccer


January 08, 2004|By Carole W. McShane | Carole W. McShane,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

FOR MOST people, the two most powerful experiences in life are achieving and connecting," says Dr. Edward M. Hallowell in his book Connect. He also says, "Connection is an essential vitamin. You can't live without it."

Bonnie Pace, 42, and many of the women who live in western Howard County, as well as hundreds of other Maryland residents, have discovered playing on a soccer team fulfills the need to achieve and to connect.

Pace, a resident of River Hill for five years, plays indoor soccer on two teams at the Soccer Dome in Jessup and outdoors on a team in the women's soccer program run by the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks.

Pace plays for the Lunatics, sponsored by the Luna C Grill in Clarksville. The team plays in the Soccer Mom League on Friday nights at the Soccer Dome.

Linda Gluck, 39, team captain, organized the Lunatics in 2002 with many of the women she exercised with at the Columbia Gym in Clarksville and with others she knew in the community. The majority of the team is from Clarksville and River Hill.

Lunatics team members are Pace, Gluck, Karen Nickles, Cindy Ouellette, Sue Midas, Patti Mann, Robin Balimtas, Kathy Deibler, Melissa Kramer, Thais Vitagliano, Amy Decker, Stephanie Aldrich, Debby Lazas, Sue Perdue, Lisa Dillard, Gigi Sheltraw, Sharon Szostak, Gigi Harsham, Amy Levitt, Erin Longenecker, Caryn Lasser, Mona Weinberg and Elizabeth Ferrick.

In addition to helping her stay in great shape, Pace says, it is an enjoyable way of connecting with the community. "The same people I see at the PTA, at the grocery store and at [my sons'] soccer field, I now play soccer with."

It was through the Lunatics that Pace made her connection to the Clarksville Middle School PTA board.

Never having volunteered for a PTA board position, Pace smiled as she recalled the experience. "Caryn [Lasser] called me and said she was taking over as the president of the PTA and would I like to be an officer or a committee chair? So soccer pulled me into the PTA." She now serves with teammates Lasser, Sheltraw and Lazas.

Susie Davis' restaurant sponsors the Lunatics, and she's a soccer player, "My soccer teammates are my best friends," she said.

Davis, 47, who was raised in Howard County, did not start playing soccer until she was 37. Two years later, in 1995, people she met through her job in real estate asked her to join their co-ed team, called Not Quite Right.

Davis played a more competitive level of indoor and outdoor soccer for eight years on Not Quite Right. Her teammates included former college and semipro players and college coaches.

"I was fortunate to have played with all these excellent players and coaches," she said. "I learned to play the game correctly because I learned to play from players who are really good."

Asked what advice she would give women who were thinking about playing on a soccer team but may be hesitant, Davis said, "Definitely go for it. It's fun. It's great exercise. It gives you knowledge of the game and it's good socialization, too. That's part of why I did it."

Besides connecting with the community, soccer team players say, playing the game also strengthens their connection to their family.

"I think it's so good for adults to play the game," said Davis.

She said that when you're sitting on the sidelines watching your children play, you're expecting your child to do certain things. But when parents have to get out there and do it themselves, their perspective changes.

"You think, wow, this is not as easy as you think," Davis said.

Pace said that playing soccer has given her a much better appreciation of how good her son Jake's travel soccer team is. Jake, 12, a pupil at Clarksville Middle School, plays travel soccer in the Soccer Association of Columbia.

"They are so fast and so good," Pace said.

Karen Nickles, 39, another member of the Lunatics, met Pace through the travel team on which Jake and Nickles' son, Garrett, 12, play.

Nickles said many women become familiar with soccer by watching their children play from the sidelines. "It looks like fun, and they make the first step and join a team. Then they're hooked," she said.

Unlike Pace and Davis, Nickles has played soccer much of her life. Her interest started with a soccer unit taught in fifth grade at Northfield Elementary School. At first, Nickles played on a boys' team, where she met her husband, Lance. She recalls that he was one of only two boys who would pass to a girl. She went on to play soccer at Centennial High School, graduating in 1982, and at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, from which she graduated in 1986.

However, for many of the women who play on an adult soccer team, this is their first time playing a team sport. Thais Vitagliano, 43, joined the team to get a better understanding and feel for the game her daughter, Adriana, 9, had begun playing in school.

Growing up in Laurel, Pace remembers only cheerleading, gymnastics and bowling as choices for young girls at the beginning of the Title IX era.

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