THIS IS about "the U.S. over-30 women's national team." That's a soccer team with five players who reside in Howard County. Their coach is widely known in Howard County, coaches for the western Howard County Thunder youth club, in fact. And virtually all of the players, regardless of where they live, play soccer indoors and outdoors year-round in Howard County.
"Whaaaaat?" you soccer buffs surely are thinking. "What over-30 women's national team? There is no such thing."
But don't tell the spokesman for a soccer club in a small German town visited a year ago by Vintage United, a team that sometimes calls itself Vintage Lightning. Vintage players still grin when they relate how that spokesman erroneously introduced them to townsfolk at one of six games Vintage-whatever played on what can only be called, with an appropriate nod to the Beatles, a magical mystery tour.
It certainly was magical if you listen to Vintage's players -- actually a team of women over 40, many of whom have played together for more than a decade. They leave this month for six more games in Germany, and one across the border in the Czech Republic, and can't wait to get to the airport.
But, apparently, it was a mystery tour for many of the team's German hosts a year ago. Not that Vintage got a poor reception. In fact, said manager Robin Derwin, the hospitality couldn't have been better, which is why the players want to return.
"I think it was a wonderful cultural exchange," said Derwin. "The United States has gotten a bad reputation in some places over there, so I think we all felt that we were a small part of helping rebuild things on a low-key, personal basis -- just a group of women who love to play soccer."
For some Germans, though, the mystery began with how the team arrived in town last year -- and will again this year. It was aboard a motor coach known in many small German towns as the bus the U.S. under-21 team uses when it tours Germany. The locally owned bus has the famed World Cup trophy emblazoned on its sides.
"They had to wonder what was going on when we began getting off that bus -- a group of middle-aged women," said western Ellicott City resident Debbi Hasty, a former flight attendant who at 55 is the team's goalkeeper. "Women's soccer isn't exactly revered over there, and so some had to wonder why we would be on such an expensive trip."
Vintage's opponents weren't exactly a lineup that a real American national team would face, either. First was a team of teenage boys who swamped them the same day they landed in Germany. Later, they and a town team of older men tied, 4-4. Vintage shut out, 5-0, an American women's team, whose members were in Germany mostly on military assignments. There were a couple of other women's teams, as well -- including one that Vintage helped to break local precedent.
"Every one of the towns we visited had a soccer club with at least one and usually two or three absolutely beautiful fields," said Hasty. "In this one town, we played a women's team that had never been allowed to play on the club's front field -- the best one. Some of the players were almost moved to tears to have that experience, and the only reason we can think of that the club allowed it was that we had come all the way from America to play. I don't think the club's leader was happy about it, but we said some nice things about him, gave him one of our T-shirts, and, in the end, he was all smiles."
Every game ended with a community meal and celebration, with free-flowing beer, sometimes sipped from a huge, communal stein that was passed from person to person.
"The game seems just an excuse over there to have a great dinner," said Hasty. "I'm telling you, I'll be 80 and in a nursing home, and that trip will be among my fondest memories."
Vintage's trips have been organized in Germany by Denis Krupa, a Montgomery County elementary school physical education teacher who has long coached youth teams in Howard County. Krupa, who began coaching the Vintage for some of its outdoor play about four years ago, has operated a summer soccer camp in Germany for the U.S. Army for a number of years.
Howard County players on Vintage United, which calls itself a Montgomery County-based team, include Bette Williams of River Hill; Lisa Flynn of Clarksville; Lisa Babcock of Highland; Regina Jenkins of Ellicott City, Cathy Harrison, Nancy Goldmeier and Lucy Gurton.
Call the writer at 410-332-6525 about anything to do with amateur sports in Howard County, or send e-mail to lowell.sunder email@example.com.