Community Sports Hall of Fame: Louise Waxler

Listen to the obvious affection in Louise Waxler's voice when she recalls the names of the many volunteers who helped create a national showcase event out of a small weekend soccer tournament and it is easy to understand why she's been so successful in a myriad of sports-oriented endeavors.

Listen to her describe her Pittsburgh childhood in the DeMacio family and that understanding of her success is further enhanced.

"I grew up in an ethnic family, Italian on both sides,'' she said. "My mom had eight brothers and sisters and they all lived on the same street. My grandmother lived on the same street."

Louise's father worked in the steel mills.

"It was all about family and my life revolved around sports. I played softball, volleyball, field hockey and basketball. I never played soccer and didn't know anything about it until my youngest daughter played.''

That daughter, Lindsay, earned an athletic scholarship to play Division I soccer at the University of Arkansas.

Louise's only sibling, Tony DeMacio, is the director of scouting for the Atlanta Braves after serving an eight-year stint in the same position with the Baltimore Orioles in the 1990s.

Waxler attended Slippery Rock College for three years until her mother's death forced her to drop out. "Girls didn't go to college much in those days. I had to beg my father to go.''

She then married Rich Waxler and the couple lived in Philadelphia for 13 years and Pittsburgh for two more before moving to Maryland for her husband's new job. By then she had two daughters.

She became involved with the Soccer Association of Columbia's Memorial Day Soccer Tournament, Howard County's signature sports event that put Columbia on the national soccer map, because her daughter's coach, Leo Weil, asked for her help. Weil's wife was the tournament's girls coordinator.

"I never thought it would grow into what it did,'' Waxler said. "We used to sit in the kitchen typing up applications.''

In 1985 she became tournament director, remaining in that position through 2006, and the number of teams soared from 135 to 230. As many as 400 teams would apply.

"We had to keep it manageable. We didn't have enough fields and it was about quality not quantity,'' she said. "There was no electronic application then. We would mail out 1,100 applications and then sort through them by hand to decide which teams to take. The quality is what made it so successful. We had many former national players."

A 1989 Sports Illustrated story that called Columbia a "hotbed for soccer'' and featured a local club team called the Diplomats, with Todd Haskins and Kori Hunter, also helped.

But mostly it was the unpaid volunteers that made it work.

"I had a core of 20 to 25 people, many of whom stayed with me for 20 years,'' said Waxler, who also served as SAC's executive director from 1989 through 1996.

Waxler rattles off names such as Blondelle Hunter, Marcelino Bedolla, Bob and Sharon Landolt, Arlene and Jeff Rodway, Bob Carels, Tenney Brown, Lincoln Phillips, Dave Nesbitt, Dave Shapiro, Bob Hall, Rob Bindel, Joyce and Bob Curtis, Steve Brunett, Don and Nancy Van Deusen as if they were all family members.

"Tenney Brown was a ham (radio) operator and that's how we communicated at the different fields back then. There were no cell phones,'' said Waxler.

The chores involved were many, ranging from ordering T-shirts, to creating a printed program, to writing college profiles, to putting together and transporting portable goals, to lining fields to securing housing for out-of-town teams. A different volunteer handled each job.

"Bob and Sharon Landolt did the housing for 20 years,'' Waxler said.

Of course, everything didn't always go smoothly.

It tends to rain in May a lot, and one year there was a horrendous downpour that started Friday night as teams were registering at the Columbia mall.

"I got a call Saturday morning from the Parks and Rec department saying that the fields were closed,'' said Waxler, who started making frantic phone calls up the chain of command until she reached County Executive Liz Bobo. "Liz saved the tournament and kept the fields open and even came out to watch a night game.''

The games were delayed three hours, however.

"Don Van Deusen bought drying compound to put in the goals and we had people with brooms sweeping the water off the fields,'' Waxler said. "Then some guy from New York got mad about his daughter's game being delayed and started swinging a tennis racket at me. I got in my car and drove to a secluded place and cried. I thought to myself that 'I'm just a volunteer.' ''

Bobo, now a delegate in the state House of Representatives happily recalled her intervening to help Waxler.

"Louise really put her heart and soul into providing for the kids. She was tireless, energetic and enthusiastic and still is, and she played a seminal role in SAC's success,'' Bobo said.

SAC now provides teams for 5,000 kids and recently celebrated its 40th anniversary.

In 2004, Waxler was offered a job she couldn't refuse with the Washington Freedom of the Women's United Soccer Association as director of business operations and later she became the general manager of the Philadelphia Independence in Women's Professional Soccer, in 2008.

She also founded the Kicks Against Breast Cancer tournament in 1997, which has raised $800,000 by bringing together Division I college women's teams. She did it to honor the memory of a friend, Claudia Mayer, who died from that disease.

"I just wanted to give back,'' Waxler said.

In 2006, Waxler was named President of the National Soccer Coaches of America and became only the third woman to hold that position.

The list of her accomplishments and recognitions goes on and on and could take one's breath away.

"I never dreamed that volunteering to help run a small soccer tournament in Columbia would lead me where it did,'' Waxler said. "All of the people who have touched my life have just been unbelievable.''

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