Charity golf tourney will provide plenty of soccer talk and much to think about

PLAYING AROUND

At Play

SUMMER In Howard County

July 27, 2005|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

SEVERAL SOCCER wrinkles set apart a charity golf tournament that is to be played Monday at Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center.

First, it is being run by the Washington Freedom, with a significant assist from a Columbia woman who is active in keeping that former pro women's soccer team - and dream - alive. More on her in a moment.

This tournament is different, too, in that a few soccer celebrities will be in town, including the wife of Chicago Cubs shortstop Nomar Garciparra, better known in soccer circles as Mia Hamm, considered by many to be the greatest women's soccer player ever.

Other names that can be dropped include Anson Dorrance, the University of North Carolina's women's soccer coach; and Siri Mullinix, a U.S. women's national team goalkeeper and Olympian. Hamm and Mullinix both played for Dorrance at Carolina, at different times, and both were Freedom teammates during the three heady but struggle-filled years of the Women's United Soccer Association.

Other celebrities include Columbia resident and Howard High alumnus Desmond Armstrong, a former U.S. men's national team player and Olympian; Nick Rimando, D.C. United's goalkeeper; and Charles Mann, former Washington Redskins defensive end and TV sports personality who has two daughters playing soccer.

Hamm will be making one other local appearance Monday. Between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., she will be at the Soccer Association of Columbia-Howard County's complex to talk with young players and provide a few tips. Her appearance at Northrop Fields at Covenant Park will be free and open to the public.

But what is at least as interesting to soccer buffs as the celebrities is that the Washington Freedom still exists. No other team from the WUSA, which abruptly went out of business two years ago, still has a presence - and players competing, albeit with amateur status.

Louise Waxler of Columbia, who runs a soccer business, is still the Freedom's operations director, thus keeping her fingers on the pulse of much that is women's soccer nationally. She, coach Jim Gabarra of Annapolis and assistant coach Clyde Watson are spending a lot of time holding the Freedom together.

Waxler said the Freedom is maintaining an independent playing schedule - with home games played at Germantown's SoccerPlex - because of hopes that another pro league will be formed. It is in Canada this week. Last summer, the team traveled to Madrid, where it defeated Spain's national women's team, 1-0, in a charity game that got prominent acknowledgment from FIFA, soccer's international governing body.

Proudly, Waxler pointed out that the Freedom played this month with a guest player, Sun Wen, China's Mia Hamm in the precedent-setting 1999 Women'sWorld Cup, a subsequent WUSA drawing card and current University of Illinois student. Next week, the Freedom will have another guest player, Brandi Chastain, who meant far more to the U.S. women's team that won the 1999 WorldCup (and more) than just the celebratory shirt-removal with which nonsoccer fans will identify her forever.

The Freedom has a hand in youth soccer, too, with some of its former players coaching teams for girls as young as 8, and running camps and clinics. The idea is to keep talking up women's soccer, encouraging the thousands of girls playing, and keeping alive the dream of a new pro league. It is an old, admirable formula, one that female players used to build their sport long before the 1999 World Cup gave it stunning exposure and led to the WUSA's formation.

"What we're hearing now is that a [pro league's] relaunch could happen in 2007," said Waxler. But backers and specifics remain vague.

Perhaps significantly, the Freedom regained an old backer this year - John Hendricks, founder and chief executive of the Silver Spring-based Discovery Channel cable TV empire. Hendricks owned the Freedom during its WUSA days and also was the prime mover and shaker in getting the pro league formed.

How much financial support he is putting up to keep the Freedom running is unclear, and he could not be reached for comment, given his corporation's presence in France for the Tour de France.

But no lesser name than Dorrance is singing Hendrick's praises, heading into Monday's golf tournament.

"I can't help but point out how classy it is for John Hendricks to help keep this alive," said Dorrance from home in North Carolina. "It's a reminder that he doesn't want the dream [of professional soccer for women] to die. It's wonderful that he's become a reminder of how important that is for our sport."

Oh, that golf tournament Monday ... some of the proceeds will benefit the Spain-based Sport and Cooperation Network and its AIDSports. That is a nonprofit group that uses sports to bring communities together to help find a cure for the disease. Some tournament spots are open. You can make reservations at www. washingtonfreedomsoccerclub. com or by calling 443-259-0020.

Call the writer at 410-332-6525 about anything related to amateur sports in Howard County or send e-mail to lowell.sunderland@baltsun.com.

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