Tuesday, February 19, 2013

They Don't Care; They Dare

TigerBlog saw a picture the other day from Lourie-Lovie Field, the old soccer facility at Princeton.

It made him think back to all the games he saw there, between the men's and women's teams, going back to when Bob Bradley coached the men. When Princeton reached the 1993 NCAA Final Four in men's soccer, TB covered all three games that the team won along the way.

When the women's team reached the 2004 Final Four, TB was the team's contact. He remembers vividly the four games that Princeton won on Lourie-Love Field - defeating Central Connecticut, Villanova, Boston College and Washington - to reach the College Cup.

By the last game, a crowd of 2,500 had engulfed Lourie-Love and its old rickety, wooden stands, with no amenities of any kind, except for a dining services food truck and bathrooms in Class of 1952 Stadium.

Still, while it was just a generic little field, Lourie-Love was still a great place to watch a game, especially on an early fall day when the shadows started to come across the grass. The stands, such as they were, put the fans right next to the players.

Lourie-Love became a casualty of those huge crowds from the 2004 NCAA run by the women, when it became apparent that a new facility was necessary.

Of course, that new facility is Roberts Stadium, a college soccer paradise whose game field - Myslik Field - sits where Lourie-Love used to be. It's a perfect place to watch college soccer. Perfect.

Then there are the fields that TigerBlog saw in the documentary "Ladies Turn," put out by the organization of the same name.

The documentary was set in Senegal, where the organization put together a women's soccer championship tournament. The movie follows the players and organizers along the trail of the tournament and the issues that came up at every turn.

Some were logistics, like not getting approval to use the stadium for the championship game until hours before kickoff.

Most were cultural, and almost all of those related to the idea that women shouldn't be playing soccer.

Back at Roberts Stadium, such a discussion never enters into the equation. Of course the women should play. Of course they should have equal access to the stadium, the equipment, the coaching, the athletic trainers, the publicity that the men get. It's not even a thought in anyone's mind that they shouldn't.

The idea that the success of a women's team is what drove the fundraising for the new stadium is probably as foreign to the Senegalese women as the dialect that they spoke in the sub-titled movie.

And the fields they played on?

There wasn't a hint of grass on almost all of them.

So why did they do it?

Because they love to play. That's why. And that's what makes the movie so special.

It's obvious how important playing the game is to them. It's obvious that they weren't going to let anyone tell them no.

Even more, it's obvious while they are playing that they don't care who is watching, what the field is like, who told them they couldn't. In every gesture, every kick, every goal, the sheer joy these women have of playing the sport dives off the screen and smacks the viewer in the face.

The movie was shown last week at the Woodrow Wilson School, and among those in attendance were the members of the 2012 Princeton women's soccer team, who went 14-4-1 overall and 7-0-0 in the Ivy League while winning the outright championship and a first-round game in the NCAA tournament.

Also in attendance was a woman named Jennifer Browning, a Washington, D.C., native and Cal grad who by her own admission wasn't much of an athlete herself. She went to work for the U.N. and found herself in Senegal, where she was the driving force behind Ladies Turn.

Also in attendance was Gaelle Yomi, a Senegalese journalist and communications manager for Ladies Turn. She was asking questions of the Princeton players and coaches about how women's college soccer works in this country - and answering as many questions about her own experiences.

It was one of those great moments that is an offshoot of athletics, with an afternoon between people from wildly different backgrounds, drawn together because of a universal game.

TigerBlog's favorite moment of the movie was when the Senegalese women were described this way: "They don't care; they dare."

It's such a great sentiment.

Nobody wants them to play? Too bad. They're going to anyway.

It's a battle that the current Princeton women's soccer players haven't had to fight, since it was fought in this country a few generations back.

Still, it doesn't mean they don't dare in their own way. They dare to compete. They dare to succeed. They dare to work hard to make themselves the best they can be.

And they do it for the same reason as their counterparts in Africa.

Whether it's on a pristine field at an Ivy League college or on a dirt field in Senegal.

They do it because they love to play.

And nobody's going to stop them.

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