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They may be in their 60s, but Haute Pink players would rather kick than kick back

The women of Haute Pink give soccer their best shot, and that's often the only goal they score.

January 30, 2011|By Esmeralda Bermudez, Los Angeles Times

The ladies of Haute Pink do not practice or warm up. They'd rather not hurt themselves before they even reach the soccer field.

At 61, captain Sami Rawcliffe admits she is probably the team's worst player. Vickie Shackett, also 61, has no ball handling skills and Roberta Swanson, the oldest at 67, usually is short of breath.

Still, nearly every Saturday morning the women gather in Duarte — dressed in pink shirts and black shorts — to face off against rivals often less than half their age. Unlike the women, the youngsters grew up playing the game. They're fast and strong and nearly always win.

"We get beaten, severely and constantly," Rawcliffe said. "But we're here because we can do this. We're old and our moms would have never gotten out of their beautiful dresses and pumps to do something like this, but we can."

Haute Pink (pink because one player loves the color and haute because "we're high end") is made up of some of the oldest players at Adult Sports Management, a Pasadena program that started as a women's league in 1972 and now includes about 3,000 men and women.

When they formed Haute Pink in 2004, some of the women were nearing retirement — as teachers, accountants, social researchers, therapists. They grew up in an era, they said, when young women were encouraged to cook, sew and type, not to play team sports.

"No one knew what to do, where to be or where to go," said Debbie Sheridan, 67, a founding member who can no longer play because she works on Saturdays.

Sheridan and Rawcliffe, longtime tennis buddies, came up with the idea for the team one afternoon after a match. They were looking for a way to improve their footwork on the court and figured soccer could help. They went to watch a game played by twentysomethings, and "we thought to ourselves, 'we can totally do this,'" Sheridan said.

They enlisted Sheridan's son, Brian, as their coach, but he soon found out they planned on doing things their way.

Carlene Sutherland, 65, a former runner-up for Miss Southern California Swimming Pool Assn. the women playfully nicknamed Barbie, used to call practice "rehearsal." She called shin guards "armored greaves" after the leg armor in "The Iliad."

Each time the poor coach tried to get the team to sprint or do any conditioning, his attempts were met by groans and stern, grandmotherly orders.

"They looked at me incredulously and asked, 'Where's the bottle of wine?'" he said.

But when Saturday morning rolled around, they dutifully showed up on the field, ready to play.

Debbie Maust, 55, had raised three sons, so the team figured she was brave enough to guard the goal. Janet Bowen, in her 50s, was a fast runner, so she ran interference. Chris Freyer, a tiny German woman with a short temper, was good for storming across the field and scoring points. Sutherland (because she was tall and preferred to stand in one place so as not to ruin her feathered hairdo) stayed midfield, in defense.

"Debbie Maust would yell, 'Put your body on the line!'" Rawcliffe said. "And we would try our best to listen."

They played 18 games the first two seasons and lost every single one.

On occasion they scored goals (not always for their team). And now and then, in later years, they celebrated a few victories.

But the team has never been about the glory or the fans. Few people they know show up to watch, and some friends and relatives scold them for playing.

"This is about us knowing we can play a game we probably have no business playing," Shackett said.

As proof, they list the injuries: Rawcliffe got a concussion after she tried to head the ball. Shackett fractured her shoulder in a fall. One woman broke both wrists as she fought to block a goal and another made it through her first game in one piece only to sprain both ankles in the parking lot as she walked to her car.

"I couldn't believe it," Rawcliffe said. "One second she was up and the next she was down on the ground."

On a recent Saturday morning at Encanto Park, the referee's whistle blew and the women of Haute Pink braced themselves to take on the Stone Roses.

They were down three teammates — younger players assigned by the league to give them a boost — and had to scramble to defend their goal.

From the other end of the field, the Stone Roses — a full team of seven young Latinas dressed in black — came charging toward them to score. They made swift passes and strategized out loud in Spanish, which the Haute Pinks couldn't follow.

"Come onnnnnn, Pink!" Rawcliffe hollered.

Two of the missing teammates — 46-year-old Sandra Fuentes and 48-year-old Denise Trapani — eventually showed up and joined them on the field, exponentially increasing their speed and aggressiveness.

But by halftime, Haute Pink was down 0-1 and running out of steam.

Swanson held her lower back and Maust was red-faced.

Rawcliffe offered a game plan: "I say we rush the goalie next time she puts the ball down."

Minutes later, one of Haute Pink's younger players scored and the team cheered.

On the sidelines, a couple of people clapped.

But the joy was short-lived, and when the referee blew his whistle to end the game, the score was 1-4.

Haute Pink had lost again.

Still smiling, the women gingerly walked off the field, patting one another on the back.

"So how we feelin', Pink?" Rawcliffe asked cheerfully.

"We're still here," Trapani said, slipping off her shin guards.

esmeralda.bermudez@latimes.com

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