Soccer playing moms

Group of city women take to pitch

Rachel Dobbs, right, and Lori Hutfles take part in a recent practice of the B4 Title IX soccer team. The 18-member squad of Lawrence women aged 25 and up will play in this weekend's Sunflower State Games in Topeka.

Wednesday afternoon, a group of Lawrence women gathered around a box at the outlet park on the eastern side of the Clinton Lake dam.

When the box was opened, the contents inside brought into focus just what these women were heading into: soccer uniforms.

This group of women has gathered at the park every Wednesday and Sunday since early May in preparation for this morning’s Sunflower State games at SSA Soccer Complex in Topeka. The team, christened B4 Title IX, consists of Lawrence women ages 25 and up. And as they take the field for the first time this morning, they have a clear goal in mind.

“We don’t expect to win any of our games,” said Shannon Oury, team manager and player. “We are just going out there to have fun.”

The origins of this weekend’s endeavor came from the women’s involvement in a much smaller version of the game.

A few years ago, Susan Mercer, a B4 Title IX player, helped organize a women’s indoor soccer league. The league was a place where women, most of whose children play soccer, could have a place to play.

The indoor game, called futsal, focused on playing in small gyms with a smaller, heavier ball.

After some struggles in the beginning of the league, interest began to grow, and the number of teams followed suit.

“In the beginning, we only had enough players for two teams,” Mercer said. “But since then, especially in the last two years, we’ve had a lot of growth. Now we have around 40 players.”

One player who gravitated to the idea of playing soccer was Lori Hutfles. The Lawrence resident found an interesting opportunity in playing the game.

“My daughter has played for a while,” Hutfles said. “So I decided to play instead of just watching on the sidelines. It’s really given me the opportunity to learn a lot about the game. Before this, I only competed in individual sports, such as running, so with soccer I really learned how important communicating with other players was. I found that very appealing.”

With many of the players having played throughout the year in the indoor league, the move to the outdoor game seemed obvious.

“We got to talking, and I had mentioned the Sunflower Games,” Oury said. “So we got together and decided, why not?”

There are very apparent differences between the indoor and outdoor games.

A wider, longer outdoor pitch, for instance, means more ground to cover than a gymnasium. That said, for some of the players, apprehensions toward the outdoor game were surprisingly few.

“For me there was more apprehension with the indoor game,” Hutfles said. “You worry about falling down on those hard floors.”

The enthusiasm for playing outdoors also has made the move with the players. Considering the responsibilities these women have – full-time jobs and families – that enthusiasm has been one of the best results of the endeavor, they say.

“The interest has been amazing considering most of us have kids,” Oury said. “We work and have to take our kids places. At most practices, we have 10-11 people show up, and we have a full roster.”

That full roster – consisting of 18 players – will compete in the women’s open soccer division of the Sunflower Games against three teams, with two games today and one Sunday morning.

Oury said she expects the team to be one of the oldest and least experienced on the field, which is one of the reasons for the somewhat historical moniker.

The team’s name – a reference to the 1972 federal law outlawing discrimination on the basis of sex in activities funded by the government – gives a nod to where many of the team members have come from.

“Most of us picked up soccer as adults,” Oury said. “When we were kids, they didn’t have soccer for girls.”

Now that the team is venturing into somewhat uncharted territory, many on the B4 Title IX team have found their children – many of whom play – to be more than supportive.

“At first my daughter watched me play indoors and said, ‘Wow, you aren’t very good,'” Hutfles said. “But after playing a few years, she has been very supportive.”

Mercer added that it was nice to have her children be supportive of what she was doing after so many years of supporting them.

That support will go a long way this morning as the team takes the field. The players feel they will be taking the field with the right attitude.

“As long we go out there and be competitive,” Mercer said, “and make some good passes, maybe score a few goals and not get anyone injured, I think will be all right.”