Women get a kick out of league


Soccer has been a big part of Carrie McGrath's life. She took up the sport at age 4, played for Mount Hebron High School and her 8-week-old son already has a soccer ball in his crib.

In fact, the Elkridge resident played up to six nights a week before having her baby and plans on getting back to a busy soccer schedule at night and on weekends soon.

McGrath enjoys playing in the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks' fall women's league, which plays Sunday nights and just concluded its season last weekend. She has been in it for four years and says she enjoys being able to get out on the field and play the game she loves.

McGrath has been a player/coach for the Red Ghosts in the D division. There are three divisions in the league -- A/B, C and D. McGrath served only as coach this fall -- for obvious reasons. But she can't wait to get back on the field.

"The women I play with in [the league] are a fantastic group of people," McGrath said. "It's like a family out there. We hang around together ... off the field also."

Janell Coffman is a sports and marketing coordinator for the Department of Recreation and Parks and a big soccer fan who runs the league. Coffman played soccer at the Community College of Baltimore County-Catonsville and is the assistant coach there.

She plays in the Soccer Moms league Friday nights at Soccer Dome I in Howard County, but said the county league has been strong for a long time and should remain that way.

"I think it has the opportunity to grow," said Coffman, an Elkridge resident. "It's been excellent, and we've pretty much maintained it for [a while]."

The league -- made up mainly of players in their 20s and 30s -- started several years ago when a group of women got together with the Soccer Association of Columbia. They eventually went to the county, which took charge of the league, and it has been with Recreation and Parks for the past three years.

Coffman said the league averages 28 to 30 teams with a total of about 500 players. The games are played at Rockburn, Cedar Lane and Centennial parks as part of an eight-game season. Teams are seeded at season's end based on records, and there are no playoffs.

The three divisions are divided based on skill, and players must register as part of a team. However, that might change. Coffman is considering letting people join the league and then be placed on a team, which would mean more administrative work for her and others.

But the one thing that everyone agrees on is that the quality of soccer remains good. The women play with the intensity of a high school or college game and have the skills to match. They have the speed and the ability to perform key fundamentals such as pass, clear the ball and make good runs.

The women will do what is needed to play in most situations. If teams are short, games can go on. If the weather is bad, they also will still play. However, Sunday night's game between the Comets and the Furies was stopped midway through the second half when lightning split the sky at Rockburn Park.

Players from both teams came together after to talk and relax, swap stories and talk about getting together.

"In general, the people are nice," said Wes Harvey, who has been coaching the Comets since 1998 as they have risen from the D Division to the top. "The quality of play is pretty good, and I think it's a well-structured league."

The league draws players from around the area. Coffman estimated that about 50 percent of the players are from Howard County, but many come from places such as Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties.

Carole Ann Strange is one of the players who make a long drive to play. She lives in Davidsonville in Anne Arundel County and has been in the league since 1990. Strange played soccer with the boys at Bowie High and then later at Towson University. Now, Strange plays with the Furies and helped them to an easy 6-0 win over the Comets on Sunday.

She also had her own cheering section that night. Her husband, Mike, and their four boys were by the fence and in the play area behind the team's bench near the parking lot at Rockburn.

"It's just a chance for women to get out and take a break, and it's great exercise -- especially with four boys ages 11, 8, 4 and 1 1/2 ," Strange said. "It is a great release to be able to come out here. I think ... probably the best exercise you can possibly get is to run for 90 minutes."

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