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The Great Outdoors: A GUIDE TO ORANGE COUNTY RECREATION
| IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

These Soccer Moms Have No Fear of Kicking

May 23, 1997|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Psychos and No Fear are engaged in weekend warfare on a pockmarked, sun-beaten soccer field at a junior high school in Los Alamitos. Twenty pairs of cleats drag tired legs to the end of another 90-minute grind.

Suddenly, the action is interrupted when No Fear's top goal scorer stops at midfield and calls out for help from the sideline.

"Is Megan OK, or is she just whining?"

Megan, the little girl seated next to the pile of equipment bags that passes for the No Fear bench, appears to be suffering from no greater affliction than boredom.

All is well, if not especially quiet, the No Fear forward is assured.

"Thanks. Just let her whine then."

Potential crisis averted, the game resumes and No Fear closes out a 3-0 victory in the Over-30 Division of the Orange County Women's Soccer League--or, if you prefer the lay definition, "AYSO, Turned On Its Ear."

Here, the children watch and the moms play--Sunday after Sunday, season after season, year after year, until the players are eligible for membership in the Over-40 Division.

Then, some players compete in both divisions.

"A lot of women play back-to-back games," says Sandy Layman of No Fear. "First they play in the Over-30s, then the Over-40s. That's three hours of soccer on a Sunday."

They are soccer moms in the truest sense of the term, and were so long before the term became a Democrat-friendly catch phrase during the 1996 presidential election.

Many of them never kicked a soccer ball before their sons and daughters tried on their first AYSO uniforms. Their interest in the game began as part-time coaches, or team van drivers, or from the vantage point of an ever-present folding chair on the sideline.

Layman started playing four years ago, at the age of 43.

"My kids played," she says, "and [the OCWSL] put a little ad in the AYSO Region 56 newsletter that they were starting an over-30 division. It sounded like something I wanted to try. All these years, I've been watching my kids kick the ball. It looked like a fun thing to do."

Soccer is a simple game, but not quite that simple, Layman and her new teammates quickly learned. Yes, you do kick a ball. You also run . . . and sprint . . . and jog . . . and pick up the pace and run some more.

For legs and lungs not properly acclimated, soccer is 90 minutes of self-abuse set to the rhythm of following the bouncing ball.

"The first 10 minutes I ever played, I started hyperventilating," Layman says, laughing. "I had to come out of the game. But after a few minutes, I was fine."

Then, there was the problem of warm-down and recovery.

"I'd play the hour and a half game," Layman recalls, "and then sleep the rest of the day. Sunday was a lost cause."

The work before kickoff seems almost as daunting. Unlike golf courses and outdoor basketball courts, Orange County is not teeming with recreational soccer fields. The women of the OCWSL must drive from one end of the county to the other to find a vacant plot of grass, often a parched, tattered strip of weeds behind a junior high or elementary school.

Players routinely help with field setup--assembling Erector Set-like portable goal posts, stringing up nets, even lining the field with chalk.

Frequently, they arrive with children and husbands in tow, delaying brunches and family outings until the sound of the referee's final whistle.

Why?

"It's a blast," says Sarah Novak, 33, who picked up the sport nearly four years ago. "I never played soccer as a kid. I was in Bobby Sox all through grade school. Softball really was my sport. But I like this way better. I love the strategy of it. It's a game were you can think. It's like a chess game with feet."

Novak's devotion to the game extends beyond the typical Sunday enthusiast. Novak plays three times a week--either in indoor or outdoor leagues--three years after being diagnosed with thyroid and lymph-node cancer.

She has undergone radiation treatment and three surgeries (the most recent in January) yet continues to play because, "it's my hobby. It's something I really enjoy, unless I don't feel well that day."

Occasionally, frustration sets in because, Novak says, "so much of my heart rate is controlled by medication to suppress tumor activity, I can't race anymore. Speed used to be my thing, but I have this hyper-thyroid."

She laughs.

"You know, I'd be in really great shape without it."

Women's recreational soccer differs from men's in a variety of ways, from the group "Good game, [opponent's name here]!" postgame cheer to team baby showers to raging debates over such details as team colors and nicknames.

"The first team I played on," Novak says, "was called Good and Plenty. Our colors were pink and black.

"Then, we formed No Fear, except at first, we were called 'AWESOME.' 'Athletic Women of Sunday Morning.' That name was so stupid. I hated it. I did not vote on that one at all.

"Then, one of our players showed up wearing a hat that said 'No Fear' on it--it's the name of a clothing company. Finally, that's what we went with, and we haven't changed for two years."

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