Jamaica vs. U.S. Will Test This Family's Allegiance to the Red, White & Blue
I'M OLD ENOUGH TO REMEMBER the deep, agonizing pain of seeing the Boston Bruins' all-time best player Bobby Orr suiting up for the Chicago Blackhawks at the end of his career. I empathize with the San Francisco 49ers fans who had to endure two years of watching Joe Montana play for the Kansas City Chiefs. I honestly still don’t know who I’ll be rooting for on Oct. 3, 2021, when the New England Patriots — my favorite NFL team since 1969 — kick off against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He should have been a Patriot for life. Bill Belichick made a profoundly stupid decision to let Tom go. End of discussion.
This Sunday night at 10 p.m. eastern time I’ll be facing a similar dilemma. The United States women’s national soccer team will be playing Jamaica and, in our soccer-crazed household whose world is disproportionately dominated by my 11-year-old daughter, Angie, we treat National Team games like stop-the-presses Must See TV. Normally, we’d be all in for the women wearing red, white and some shade of blue. This Sunday, though, we’ll be tracking the women in yellow and green, especially the one with the number 6 on the front of her Jamaican jersey.
I call Havana Solaun my soccer daughter. Because virtually all professional women’s soccer players didn’t make a living wage in 2017, players like Havana were placed with “host families” who provided free rent in an available room in their homes. I raised my family’s hand back then and, seemingly out of nowhere, a world-class soccer player from the Washington Spirit was frying her breakfast sausages and scrambling her eggs in our kitchen many mornings for the next two years. Just like Renée Zellweger's character Dorothy Boyd in the movie “Jerry Maguire,” Havana had us at hello. We loved her instantly, as I noted in my book, “Raising Tomorrow’s Champions.” Knowing Havana is what made meeting Joanna Lohman, and writing the book, possible.
Some people in the last few years have suggested that we were generous for opening our home to a stranger. My perspective is the benefits were mostly ours. With a daughter who believes or believed, depending on the day, that she, too, can be a National Teamer, we were able to see first-hand how utterly difficult it was (is) to be a women’s professional soccer player in America. If Havana had been a professional male, staying with a host family at age 23 would have been unthinkable. If she had been a male, she would have had better facilities, a vastly larger paycheck, qualified team doctors to help her overcome injuries, more opportunities for sponsors — and not have had to endure the sound of my older daughter’s cello practices wafting through her bedroom door while she was trying to sleep.
Havana showed us what it means to be dedicated to a dream no matter what. She showed us breathtakingly good skills. Look at the speed, agility and instinct it took to complete this goal in May of 2017: https://washingtonspirit.com/2017/05/06/washington-spirit-earns-4-3-home-win-over-sky-blue-fc/ (2:00 mark of the video). Along the way, she fished with us in the pond in the ravine, patiently answered my endless questions about youth soccer, coached Angie in the front yard, and showed up to watch with her teammates at the wine bar when my son was beginning to follow his own dream of making it as a professional musician (www.DukePaul.com). In short, she became a member of our family. When Havana scored the first and only World Cup goal in Jamaican women’s soccer history in 2019, I literally cried for minutes on end. I get teared up again, every time I watch the replay (https://www.foxsports.com/watch/1544512579516). Have you seen a better, more athletic, goal?
To many people, Sunday night’s contest between the U.S. and Jamaica will be inconsequential. It’s like the first-game-in-September college football scenario where the powerhouse schedules the patsy to puff up the quarterback and the stats. The U.S. team is ranked No. 1 in the world and Jamaica is somewhere south of 50th. On paper, the U.S. should win at least 4-0. For me, though, this game means everything. My view, as her soccer Dad, is that Havana could (should) be on the U.S. team instead. Born in Hong Kong to a Cuban father and Jamaican mother with dual citizenship in Canada and the U.S., Havana grew up in Florida as an American girl who played with and against many of the women on the current U.S. team as a youth player. She was called in to seven different youth National Team camps through the years but, ultimately, the coaches let her slip away.
As I have watched Havana become a starter for the North Carolina Courage this season, spraying uncannily great passes all over the field, I wonder what might have been. I think of what Havana revealed to me during an interview that appears on page 241 of our book: “I’d like to think that some point down the road, the U.S. coaches will watch Jamaica play and say, ‘Dang, we missed out on that one.’” Sunday night could be that night.
But Sunday isn’t really about proving anyone wrong. As Havana stated in our book, playing for Jamaica — with women whose blood flows through her own veins — is probably the way it was supposed to work out all along. Leading a group of underdogs, a group of Davids vs. Goliaths if you will, has become her higher calling ever since she pulled on the crest of a group of soccer vagabonds known as the “Reggae Girlz.” It’s a team where basic needs of players are barely met, sort of like the U.S. Women’s National Team circa 1985. I’ll never forget what Havana told me: “The game has taken on a higher purpose in my life now; it’s not just about me anymore. I just hope I can show them how to play the game with dignity and give them hope for a better future.”
So come Sunday night at 10, for this one game, I know who I’ll be rooting for.
BOOK EXCERPT: The 12 Most Socially Significant National Teamers of All-Time
When Joanna Lohman and Paul Tukey started conceiving of a soccer book, they never envisioned writing about the Xs and Os of playing the game, or who scored the winning goals and made the greatest saves. From the beginning, they were focused on the impact the women have had on society, as well as the lives of girls and boys. The authors’ thesis was simple: The U.S. Women’s National Team has become the most socially significant sports team in American history.
For the Prologue, the authors kicked off their book with the selection of the 12 most socially impactful players of all-time. Some of the most iconic names and faces are a given: Mia Hamm was women soccer’s first superstar; Abby Wambach became America’s greatest scorer; and out-and-proud Megan Rapinoe may be the most recognizable female athlete on the planet today who’s not named Serena.
Some of the names, however, are much lesser known. With 241 all-time National Teamers to choose from (at the time of the book’s publication), did the authors get their list right? Here’s an exclusive excerpt from Raising Tomorrow’s Champions:
11 Plus 1 Who Changed the Rules
At the end of 2020, a total of 241 women had appeared in at least one game for the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, aka the National Team, since its inception in 1985. In addition to winning more World Cups and Olympic gold medals than any other team in the world during that period, the USWNT and its members have recrafted the very definition of what it means to be female in the 21st century. Few have made more of a collective difference than these trendsetters whose successes and challenges are reflected in the pages that follow. And, we submit, every good team needs a captain. We picked one for the ages.
Michelle Akers — Appearing in the National Team’s second-ever international women’s soccer game and its most famous game 14 years later, she quickly became America’s first dominant player, proving we could compete without embarrassment on the world stage.
April Heinrichs — Ferociously and unapologetically competing on the soccer field like no woman before her, she infused the team with a DNA that would span generations, and she later became the National Team’s first full-time female coach.
Mia Hamm — Discovered as a high school freshman and placed on the national team a year later at age 15, she would become America’s first female sports superstar and the reluctant face of soccer the world over.
Brandi Chastain — Others scored more goals and drew more fanfare until the instant in 1999 when she became forever known as “the one who took her shirt off” and landed women’s soccer on nearly every front page in America.
Briana Scurry — The first truly transformative yet misunderstood minority player, the self-described “fly in the milk” led the National Team as goalie through some of its greatest triumphs and most controversial moment.
Abby Wambach — A reluctant youth soccer player who dominated on the field despite her lifestyle and inner demons, she became the first Generation X and out team superstar as the sport entered a new century.
Hope Solo — The girl from the wrong side of the tracks parlayed scholarships and the generosity of strangers into a singularly dominant, yet controversial career as the nation’s female anti-hero.
Carli Lloyd — Originally derided as lazy and unfit, then cut from the National Team with unnerving regularity, the Jersey girl doubled down on effort every single time and became the proverbial lunch pail hero in the process.
Alex Morgan — Late to the pay-to-play soccer culture by modern standards, her knack for scoring big goals in huge games and girl-next-door smile made her the first-ever soccer pin-up model and Generation Y superstar.
Megan Rapinoe — Once known in soccer’s inner circle as a dependable player who showed up most in the biggest games, she emerged in the past decade as the out-and-proud voice of an entire generation of women in their fight for gender and wage equality.
Mallory Pugh — Still in high school when she scored a goal in her first-ever National Team appearance in 2017, she set what some see as a new example by walking away from a full scholarship at UCLA and turning professional at age 18.
Julie Foudy (captain) — Taking the lead from her mentor, Billie Jean King, the first female recipient of a soccer scholarship at Stanford led her fellow National Teamers on the field, and has remained one of the world’s most important voices in sports and gender equality.
Pioneers: Kathy Ridgewell-Williams, Still Imparting the Life Lessons of the Game
INTRODUCING: Kathy Ridgewell-Williams
COLLEGES — Western Washington University, University of California-Berkeley
TOUGH KID IN TOUGHSKINS — Growing up in Enumclaw, a rural farm community southeast of Seattle, Kathy’s only initial connection to soccer was the “Soccer Made in Germany” show hosted by Toby Charles on PBS in the early ’70s. “I am the youngest of four siblings who are all much older — so I had to do everything I could to keep up,” said Kathy. “We had a pretty competitive household, including my brother, Wally, who was four years older and super athletic, so by the time I started school I didn’t even think about what girls did at recess. It wasn’t really a question for me. I went to school dressed in Toughskins ready for any sport on the playground with the boys.” What she didn’t realize, at 5 years old, was that it had only been a year or two since girls weren’t required to wear dresses to school and that she also wouldn’t be allowed to play on the boy’s club soccer team. So, when Don Ryan, a local attorney, started a U9 girls’ team called the Auburn Devils a few years later, he found Kathy ready and waiting. She remembers watching the German men win the 1974 World Cup at 9 years old and having her first spark of the idea of a National Team — just for women.
THE REALITY CHECK — Playing with fellow future National Teamer Lori Bylin Sweeney on the Auburn Devils, their team won several consecutive state championships. The reign ended abruptly, however, when Michelle Akers’ team from Shoreline, Wa., moved up an age bracket to U16. “Michelle was a flat-out revelation,” said Kathy. “I mean, I thought we were pretty good until she came along. She just tore through our defense like we weren’t even there. Honestly, as aggravating as it was to lose, I think we all knew we were witnessing something really, really special. I suddenly knew there was so much more I could do to improve my game.”
THE COZARS CONNECTION — College was on her radar, but earning a degree from a high-profile school wasn’t a priority for Kathy when she graduated from Auburn High School. Only a handful of universities, the majority on the east coast, even funded soccer programs in 1983. At first, she migrated with a group of male soccer friends to the local Green River Community College — but again was only allowed to practice with, not compete, on the men’s team (no women’s team existed). Her life changed later that year when Booth Gardner, the soon to be governor of Washington, asked her to join his club team known as the Cozars, which he fully sponsored and coached. “That team was as close as you could get to being professional players at the time,” said Kathy. Traveling to tournaments that included trips to Hawaii and Las Vegas, she scored 38 goals in the first half of 1984 and made such an impression when the Cozars landed in St. Louis for the national club finals that the University of North Carolina and several other schools offered full scholarships. Kathy turned them all down. “Honestly, at that point, Cozars were offering me a level of play I didn’t want to give up and I thought to myself, ‘Why would I leave this?’”
BOOTH WHO? — The Cozars’ camaraderie, including their team relationship with the team founder, is legendary in women’s soccer. “Booth was a really special human being and did so much for the team. He was so down to earth, but also a Weyerhaeuser family heir and, by 1985, the Governor of Washington.” To this day Kathy loves reminiscing with the Cozars alum. “Booth would literally drain the gas out of the cars for his security detail to get away from them and show up alone at our practices. Or he’d show up to McDonald’s with us after our games, not have any cash on him because he was Governor, and he’d steal our French fries. It was hilarious.” A year later, Kathy would attend nearby Western Washington University with her best friend, Diana Inch, and several Cozar players including National Teamer Cindy Gordon, helping them to a NAIA Regional Finals berth. “The Cozars evolved over several years to have some of the most amazing talent and coaches, including Berhane Andeberhane, in women’s soccer at the time. It was unique, like the soccer universe aligned to bring everyone together.”
THE MOMENT OF A LIFETIME — In July of 1985, Kathy traveled to Baton Rouge, La., after being chosen for the historic Olympic Sports Festival tournament, from which the 17 members of the first-ever National Team were selected. Picked for the starting lineup in the inaugural game, Aug. 18, 1985, against the host team, Italy, Kathy said standing on the field and singing the national anthem was forever embedded in her lifetime of memories. “It’s one of those pivotal moments you look back on and say you wouldn’t trade for anything. It was truly overwhelming. It was a ‘Wow! I achieved my dream. I did it!’ moment. It was an incredible experience and a rare bond that we share. But for me, as a woman playing soccer at that time, I didn’t know if or when there would be more. It was like, ‘That was amazing, but now what happens?’”
COMPARING GENERATIONS — When considering the remarkable total of 13 players from the Seattle area who played for the National Team from 1985-1990, Kathy balks at the suggestion that today’s soccer players are fundamentally better than those of her era. “It’s tough to compare. An elite athlete is an elite athlete regardless of when they were born,” she said. “Maybe our era didn’t play soccer year-round as kids or have private trainers at 9 years old, but we had something just as good: we played with boys and men. That made us quicker physically and mentally, and technically sound at faster speed of play. If you’re an elite player, you know it; you have a hyper-drive growth mindset, you want to be better than the player next to you, woman or man, and that’s going to be true in any generation. Not to mention we had a long list of players with soccer IQs off the charts including Sharon McMurtry, Lori Bylin Sweeney and Shannon Higgins Cirovski.” Kathy was one of the players born in the 1960s who were named Washington state’s 50 all-time greatest players. That 2016 list also included all of her National Team teammates including Michelle — who Kathy believes belongs at the top of any list of women players. “I have loved watching so many great players come through. I’m really proud to see these young women have this opportunity and just dominate on a world stage. And as the pioneers, I think we are all amazed at how far the program has come. But Michelle was on another level. It’s kind of like Pelé. How do you compare Pelé to Ronaldo, or Messi? You can’t. If you saw Pelé and Michelle play in their prime or had a chance to play with them, you just know they’re different.” (NOTE: Michelle's story is a major component of our critically acclaimed new book, Raising Tomorrow's Champions)
A SUDDEN END: A torn hip flexor kept Kathy on the sidelines in 1986, but after six months of rehab, she returned for the Cozars season before appearing in two more games with the National Team in the summer of 1987. Targeted to join Colorado College that fall, Kathy changed course and followed long-time University of Washington coach Lesle Gallimore and National Team legend Joy Fawcett to the University of California-Berkeley, where Kathy became a third-team All-American in her final year of college eligibility. After graduating with a political economies degree, and with the Cozars disbanded, Kathy spent 15 months working and traveling in China. On her way back to the states, she was recruited by former National Teamer Gretchen Gegg Zigante to play professionally in Japan. Fatefully, she said, she turned Gretchen down. Returning stateside and training with a new Seattle women’s club team, Diadora, Kathy’s soccer future was instantly truncated a few months later when a driver sped through a stop sign and devastated Kathy’s car and body. “It was all neck and back injuries and my competitive days of playing, heading a ball and winning a tackle, were over. Just like that. But even so, I still am so grateful for the time I had at that level.”
EVER THE COACH: Despite playing in an era with little financial return from the game, Kathy has cashed in by turning those experiences into a professional career of coaching and managing business teams. After owning a couple of sports bars with her husband, Tim, and starting their family, she moved on to serve as a corporate manager and coach for Walgreens to help turn around financially struggling stores. She worked for many years after that consulting and managing private education programs within public K-12 school districts. Her last few years have been spent at the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services consulting as a certified diversity executive and coaching leadership development programs for an organization of more than 16,000 people. She’s remained an avid student of the game and also coached many youth teams along the way — and sees little distinction between managing the game and business. “It’s amazing how many people lack basic team management skills,” she said. “What I learned from those early days and being a bit of a nomad in my playing career is that we didn’t all have to agree all the time as long as we all had the same strategy in mind. The most successful teams I played for had people with diverse perspectives and different ideas that were willing to learn from each other then flex enough to get the win. As a leader, coach or manager in soccer and in business, build trust and relationships, allow freedom to innovate and fail; that’s what will bring you success. We learned how to experiment, fail and be more adaptable in those small-sided pickup games, right? ‘Winner Stays On! or Last Goal Wins!’ How many times do you let yourself look foolish and fall, literally, flat on your face before you pull off a Maradona in a game and everyone goes crazy? You have to trust each other to be that vulnerable. By removing the barriers that prevent people from being creative and taking risks, you’re creating an environment where they're going to get better, faster and stronger no matter what they’re doing.”
Sexual Abuse By Coaches: How To Stop it Before it Starts
Sports is supposed to be the sacred place. When we bring our children to sporting events, we think we’re signing them up for exercise, friendship and all the other positive life experiences that should come from kicking, throwing, punting, jumping, passing and team building. We want to trust the men and women who oversee our children in what should be sacrosanct moments — but as National Teamer Cindy Gordon’s story of being sexually groomed and abused by her youth coach showed us, all too often we can’t.
“If Cindy’s story helps one person, one child, one family, then it was worth it,” said her long-time friend and teammate, Amy Allmann Griffin. “My guess is her story will help a lot of people, because there a lot of people who need it, too many women who already lived through what Cindy has endured — due to a lack of knowledge of the risks.”
The responses from Cindy's revelation continue to bear that out. She reported being overwhelmed by the number of women who reached out to her, many of them saying in essence, “Me, too.” I also heard from some of these women, yet I did receive one anonymous on-line comment about how my selection of current headlines, plucked from a selection of the nation’s newspapers, was “sensationalistic.” One organization told me off the record that the issue of sexual abuse of players by coaches was “one-in-a-million,” and not something they had ever heard about in their own club. I’m still waiting for a call back from that club’s president for an on-the-record quote.
I’m sensitive to painting all coaches, especially male coaches, with the same tainted brush of doubt. My eyes tell me that the vast majority of coaches have nothing but the best of intentions; they are out there to help the girls and young women get better at their sport. Often they are fathers of daughters. I know my daughter’s first coach was unhappy with the quality of coaching and lack of resources his own daughter and her teammates were receiving relative to the boys, so he started coaching girls himself to level the playing field. I desperately want to believe — and do believe — that his intentions are pure.
As uncomfortable as it may make us, however, Amy and so many others believe it’s imperative that parents approach the coaching relationship with inherent trepidation. “There are a lot of guys coaching in the in the women’s game and you do have to wonder why they’re there,” said Amy, a long-time National Team goaltender and current coach and senior administrator with the Girls Academy, one of the premiere youth leagues in America. “Is it because they couldn’t survive in the men’s game? Is it because they are hoping girls will fawn all over them? Or is it for all the right reasons, they value the talents and potential the girls and women possess?”
Amy said she played for many excellent male coaches throughout her life, yet inappropriate sexual behavior among coaches was rampant. “Girls didn’t say anything back then because we thought, ‘Oh, I guess this is what guys do.’ We shouldn’t complain because everyone’s doing it. You think, ‘I can’t go to a different team, because it’s happening on that team, too.’” Amy and Cindy Gordon’s National Team teammate, Emily Pickering Harner, agreed in a social media post congratulating Cindy for her courage: “It was just such an era where ‘pedophile, abuse and predator’ were not terms that we even use to contemplate.”
Amy said Girls Academy coaches now receive training about the issue of sexual abuse and maintaining proper boundaries between coaches and players. She agreed it might be a good idea to consider making this training mandatory for players and parents as well, something that another sexual abuse victim said she would like to see instituted at the highest levels at U.S. Soccer. “I guarantee if I had been told to look out for that kind of behavior from my coach, my life would have turned out differently,” said Amy Carnell, who revealed she had been molested by her youth soccer coach in Washington state. “That was a prime motivator for me to step forward last year and say, ‘Hey, look, this happened to me — and I want to help stop this from happening to others. But we need to do more.”
Both of these women and others helped us draw up a blueprint for parents to follow when trying to keep their children as safe as possible. Here’s the advice:
SET STRICT PROTOCOLS — Clubs, teams and leagues need rules that govern coach-player contact, and then steps must be taken to ensure adherence. “For example, for each team there needs to be two to three designated watchdog parents who are trained to specifically be looking out for signs of grooming, or sexual abuse,” said Amy Carnell.
ANNUAL TRAINING — Part of the orientation for each team each year needs to include age-appropriate information the issue of sexual abuse, including brochures and videos for parents and guardians to follow when talking to their children.
If YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING — Parents and anyone else in the sports community need to speak up when even the slightest suspicion arises. Signs of sexual grooming include excessive attention to a single player or unusual gifts to one player, but not others.
AVOID ONE-ON-ONE SITUATIONS — Any situations that put a player and coach physically alone and out of view of others should be banned, including car rides home. Any necessary soccer-related individual meetings between players and coaches should be help in public spaces, such as hotel lobbies, team buses, or offices with the door open and, preferably, someone else in the room.
AVOID DIRECT COMMUNICATION — When coaches need to communicate with players about practice or game times, it should be conducted in group settings such as team-wide texts or emails, or ZOOM calls. Parents should avoid commenting on appropriate soccer issues such as playing time or positions on the field — but otherwise monitor all communications between the players and coaches to be certain no inappropriate lines are crossed.
Cindy Gordon, a Pioneer of the U.S. Women's Soccer Team, Details a Lifetime of Suffering at the Hands of Her Youth Coach
WARNING: THIS STORY CONTAINS GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS OF ABUSE. ANY PERSON UNDER THE AGE OF 18 SHOULD ASK FOR THE PERMISSION OF THEIR PARENT OR GUARDIAN BEFORE READING FURTHER.
THIS STORY WAS SUPPOSED TO BE a straight-forward celebration of the special career of one of soccer’s pioneers. Originally intended as an extension of our book, “Raising Tomorrow’s Champions: What the Women’s National Soccer Team Teaches Us About Grit, Authenticity and Winning,” the following words should have been about colleges attended, challenges overcome, and goals — the ones that gifted children attain through hard work and sacrifice on their fields of dreams. This story might have focused on the positive influences, coaches like Dan Swain, Booth Gardiner, Berhane Andeberhan and others who, collectively, made the state of Washington the unofficial birthplace of women’s soccer in America.
This narrative, instead, focuses on topics our book never contemplates: the coach as a predator, the influencer as a rapist, the mentor as an almost lifelong nightmare. National Teamer Cindy Gordon, who has kept this part of her life buried beneath the façade of a smiling face and successful professional life for nearly four decades, asked us to help her reveal her truth publicly for the first time. “Parents need to hear my story. My hope is that it will help parents and their daughters make better decisions about who to trust,” she told us. “If parents don’t think something like my story can happen to their children, they’re just wrong . . . Tragically wrong.” After much consideration, and weeks of conversation with Cindy, her friends and teammates, this is what we choose to share.
A LITTLE CITY BY THE SEA: Located on the eastern shore of Puget Sound, at the midpoint of the drive between Seattle to the north and Tacoma to the south, the enclave of Des Moines, Wa., is relatively new, even by American standards. Incorporated as recently as June 17, 1959 — about three years prior to the birth of its most accomplished female athlete — Des Moines seemed like the kind of place where you didn’t need to lock your cars and houses, where people knew each other’s business, or at least thought they did, and where neighbors looked out for each other’s children. The water was, and is, central to life in the area, especially the marina where everyone’s favorite soccer coach kept his sailboat moored.
The beautiful game, to be sure, was both king and queen to the residents. When the Highline Soccer Association launched a girls youth soccer team, the Demons, in 1972 in response to the landmark legislation known as Title IX, Cindy Gordon and her friends, Kim Milner and Robin Rowland, were three of the first to sign up at ages 9 or 10. When the original Seattle Sounders team played its first season in 1974, Des Moiners flooded north to the stadium; the Demons even got to scrimmage during halftime of one of the games at the Kingdome. “We just loved the game; my whole family did,” said Cindy, the second oldest of five siblings. Two of her younger brothers were allowed to play years before she was. “I remember standing on the sidelines of their games watching and secretly hoping somebody would get hurt and they’d look around and say, ‘Hey, girl, do you want to come play?’ This, of course, never happened. But then they started a girls’ team and, man, I loved it. It was just a really good fit for me because I was a pretty active kid and soccer was a good combination of just being able to run, and to be physical, in a way that was frowned upon for girls.”
Kim, who lived six blocks farther from the waterfront than Cindy, but right next to the soccer field at 16th Street, still sounds in awe of watching her friend blossom into one of the area’s first female soccer stars. “By middle school, it was really clear that Cindy was becoming someone really, really special with the ball at her feet,” said Kim. “You just knew. Plus, Cindy had some things going on at home, so I think she turned to soccer as her escape. I remember hours and hours of her juggling with the ball and being amazed at what she could do.”
DADDY’S GIRL: From the outside looking in, the Gordons were living the model Des Moines life. David, an aeronautical engineer, was beginning a long career at Boeing, which still employs more than half the town. He kept a boat in the harbor, took his children camping and fishing, and though he didn’t play a lot of soccer with his soon-to-be prodigy, he seemingly loved a good backyard touch football game with his two oldest sons and self-professed tomboy daughter. Not long after Cindy discovered soccer, however, David coincidentally began turning away from his family and moved progressively toward alcohol. He and his wife had married in their early 20s, when Patricia Gordon was two months pregnant with Cindy’s older sister, Valerie, and Cindy surmised that David had grown disillusioned with family life in his early 30s. When Cindy was 13, he sat his two oldest children down at the kitchen table and told them he was leaving the home for good. Cindy remembers crying uncontrollably.
“That was utterly devastating,” she said more than 40 years later. “Because I was so active, because I was that tomboy, I felt closer to my Dad in many ways than I did my Mom. I guess I knew he was drinking heavily, but that didn’t matter to me. I just didn’t want him to leave.”
To fill the void, Cindy relied more than ever on her friends on the Demons. A 1973 photo posted to Cindy’s Facebook page shows 13 girls in total, with Kim Milner in the front row, far left, and freckle-faced Cindy also in the front row, second from right. The girls would have been 10 years old, in fourth grade, and it’s noticeable that Robin, a fifth-grader standing next to an equally tall teammate in the back row second from left, was already nearly as tall as the coach, her mother Beverly. “Robin was a badass, and I mean that in a good way,” said Kim. Serving primarily as the team’s goaltender, Robin was often first to the practice field to help her mother set out the cones. Cindy would walk the six blocks to Kim’s house; then the two girls would walk briskly together in eager anticipation of practicing shots on their goalie. “The best memories in my life all involve Cindy,” said Kim, who now resides in Maryland. “Cindy and soccer. Soccer and Cindy. Practicing under the lights, getting to the field early and taking shots against Robin and just, you know, that whole feeling of being outside with the other girls from the school. To this day, I drive by soccer fields all the time and the lights are on and kids are there and it’s still the greatest feeling. I think to myself, ‘Yes!’ Those were great days.”
THE DIRTY SECRET: By the time the girls were in high school, graduating from the Demons to the Dirty Dozen was a Des Moines soccer rite of passage. Led by its charismatic coach — who some of Cindy’s teammates credited for their success in their interviews with us — the team was already used to winning frequently. “(His) British accent gives him an edge in drawing his young players’ wandering attention,” said a 1978 article in the Seattle Times that celebrated the team’s many victories. Cindy recalls going out of her way to earn the much older man’s praises; the coach was 53 and the player was 14 when she joined his team. “Yeah, I was totally into him, the accent, the charm, and his knowledge of the game,” she said. “I definitely took note when he would put his hand on my shoulder on the sideline when I was getting ready to go into the game, or he was giving me instructions. I think that’s where it all started . . .”
As the next year progressed, the coach began to give his newest star player more and more attention, staying late with Cindy after practice and, eventually, offering rides home in his cigarette-stained and smoke-filled blue Ranchero. Sometimes Kim and Robin would also cram, thigh-to-thigh with a man three times their age, into the modified coupe-style pickup truck with no back seat. By the spring of her freshman year, the coach began inviting Cindy out to his sailboat with his wife, the mother of his two teenage children.
Robin said the coach was a regular at The Yardarm Pub and Cindy and Kim said it was open town knowledge that the coach always kept a pint of rum close at hand, though they don’t agree on the brand. Cindy says it was Bacardi 151; Kim recalls it was Myers’s. “He was a maintenance drinker,” said Cindy. “I don’t think I ever recall seeing him drunk.” The night after the team won the Washington state championship in 1978, one of the players threw a party at her home — and the coach arrived with more than enough rum, champagne, cherry brandy and vodka for everyone. Cindy said it was the first time she had ever consumed alcohol, but the parties and her consumption of booze and marijuana would soon become a habit. Notably, she doesn’t think any of the players’ parents ever suspected anything nefarious and, even if they did, they just looked the other way. “It was a different time back then in the ’70s; I don’t think parents paid that much attention,” said Cindy. “I know my mother didn’t. She had to get a job and raise five children when my father left, so she had her own issues to worry about.”
By their sophomore year in high school, the alcohol, marijuana and the sailing began to mix. Cindy and other players joined impromptu cruises that launched from the marina, traveled past the town beach and then out into the open Sound. Sometimes the coach would just anchor off shore and pass his rum while the players fished and swam. One night, with the tide going out and Cindy and Robin on board, the coach ran the boat aground on a sandbar. The coach, sounding duly alarmed, called the Coast Guard and asked the dispatcher to alert the girls’ parents about what had happened. In retrospect, Kim now sees the whole escapade as a clear ruse. “I think he absolutely did it on purpose,” she said during a conversation in early April of this year. “He had sailed in that area hundreds of times and knew exactly where to be, or not.”
Before heading to higher ground on the beach, while waiting for the tide to change, the coach retrieved his bottle of rum and a blanket from the cockpit of this boat. Positioning himself between the two girls, Cindy 15 and Robin 16, the 54-year-old man began passing the bottle back and forth with his right hand, while keeping his left hand hidden under the blanket. Quietly, he unzipped his pants. He then waited patiently until Cindy brought her right hand under the blanket next to his, then slowly pulled her hand toward his penis. “I had never touched one before,” she said. “It was kind of exciting if I’m being honest.”
FOREVER HAUNTED: Like so many of her teammates who stood on the field in Jesolo, Italy, in August of 1985 and listened to the Italian fans lustily chant “USA, USA, USA” — yet pronouncing it “Ooosa, Ooosa, Ooosa, Ah” — Cindy Gordon recalls the first-ever U.S. Women’s National Team game as one of the proudest moments of her life. Hearing the National Anthem played on foreign land gave her goose bumps and brought tears of joy to her eyes. Sometimes that memory still does. “Cindy was a special, special player who I loved having in front of me,” said National Team goaltender Ruth Harker. “She was so cerebral; she knew the game as well as anyone.” Several members of Cindy’s soccer sisterhood from Washington state were on the field in Italy that day, too. “Cindy was so quick and so tough,” said Kathy Ridgewell-Williams, who grew up in Enumclaw, Wa., 40 miles to the east of Des Moines. “She was one of the people I had the most chemistry with. I mean, she was pit-bull tough, so tenacious on the field, and you always felt comfortable having her out there with you.”
Cindy played every minute of those first four games in Italy and, by some accounts, might have been considered a National Team fixture for years to come. It would be just a year later, however, when anxiety attacks — hidden from others — began to surface. Cindy played two more games for the U.S. in 1986, but was left home by new coach Anson Dorrance when the team headed to a tournament in China that year and was never invited back to try out ever again. “Looking back, I can see it now. For as good as she was, the self-confidence always seemed to be a little bit lacking, yet you never knew why,” said Ruth, who is the only National Team teammate with whom Cindy has shared her story until now. “When you begin to understand what she went through, and also understand the pressure of trying to make that team . . . it’s just so, so sad. Knowing what I know now, it just boils my blood.”
Cindy recalls driving through Bellingham, Wa., on her way back to Des Moines when her mental state began having physical implications. With the road blurring and seemingly starting to spin, sharp pains jabbed at her chest. Assuming she was having a heart attack, she managed to steer her Corona safely to the side of the road. “That was my first full panic attack, which I never had previously,” said Cindy. “I had started having those more often and I ended up going to a therapist. She gave me the book on how to handle panic attacks, which was totally useless, because they say, ‘Oh, just relax, breathe deeply.’ Well, that’s an impossible thing to do in that moment.”
As much as she had tried to suppress the memories from years earlier, they only seemed to come back stronger. The incident with the marooned boat had only been the beginning of a two-year pattern of manipulation that escalated the very next day when the coach invited Cindy back onto the boat, telling her his wife would be there. When Cindy discovered the coach was alone when she arrived at the dock, she knows now that she should have turned away then and never come back; the guilt for staying has been overwhelming her for decades. “The truth is I was a 15-year-old girl who thought I was older than I was,” she said. “He was an older man showing interest in me and it felt exciting. That’s what I probably struggled with the most, because it didn’t feel like abuse in the moment. My head was filled with fantasies and fairytales; he never said it to me, but I thought that, since he was paying all this attention to me, he must love me.”
IN PLAIN SIGHT: The rides home from soccer practice began to take on a predictable pattern in the weeks and months after the first physical encounter. Most times, the coach would bring Robin Rowland home first, even though she lived by far the farthest from the field and he could easily have dropped Kim and Cindy off along the way. Circling almost all the way back to the field, he would then bring Kim home before finding a side road, a church parking lot or a wooded area to stop the car. He asked Cindy for oral sex at first, and soon progressed to intercourse.
When the weather warmed, the coach would take Cindy to his boat instead. On one occasion, which she recalled from a diary entry she has kept for all these years, Cindy said an older soccer player came to the boat with her. The coach tried to entice Cindy to follow him to the berth area below deck; when she resisted, he brought the other girl instead. “I thought we were trying to keep a secret,” Cindy said. “When they came back up top, he said to me, ‘I would have taken you down there instead of her, but you didn’t want to go.’”
Further evidence that Cindy was not the coach’s only victim would come just last year when Cindy called Kim to reveal her experiences. According to Kim’s recollections conveyed to us, on more than one occasion she, too, was assaulted on the sailboat by the coach while Cindy waited on the deck above. Then, she said, Cindy would take her turn with the coach, or vice versa. “I don’t remember it that way, because I just don’t recall ever going below on the boat when someone else was on board,” Cindy told us. “It’s troubling to me that she has memories that I don’t have, because I wonder what else I might have repressed.”
As more time passed, with her consumption of alcohol and marijuana increasing, Cindy recalls moments of jealousy, yet also growing paranoia about having the relationship revealed. One night, at the church near her home, a passerby banged on the windows of the coach’s car during an assault. On another night, with adults and teenagers all drinking together on Blake Island during an overnight camping trip, Kim recalls the coach walking up to Cindy amidst a crowd of people, taking her by the hand, and leading her off into the dark woods. "Nobody said a word," said Kim. Cindy also vividly recalls having a conversation with the coach about his son, just two years older than Cindy, who had grown suspicious of his father’s extramarital activities. “He told me his son said, ‘Dad, you better not be doing anything with her,’” said Cindy. “I remember that actually felt good to me . . . that someone was actually looking out for my interests.”
By her junior year in high school, overwhelmed with guilt and shame, yet still occasionally succumbing to the coach’s advances, Cindy said she began cutting her upper thighs and arms with a razor blade — a common self-harm behavior among victims of sexual abuse, according to many experts. “I remember just feeling so many different emotions and confusion and pain,” she said. “I was just so tired of lying to my mother, even to my father, and it felt like that cutting myself was the only way to focus that pain somewhere physical.”
PAY TO PLAY — National statistics and various non-profit organizations state that between 2 and 8 percent of young athletes are sexually assaulted in the U.S. — though others say that number may be higher due to the lack of reporting by victims, especially boys. SafeSport is funded by the federal government to focus on these issues and an organization known as Safe4Athletes, founded by Olympic swimmer Kathleen Starr, works to educate American families about the risks that have always been there in the complex relationships between coaches and athletes of all sports and ages. Safe4Athletes offers educational programs about four differing types of sexual misconduct in sports: pedophilia, sexual harassment, sexual abuse and athlete domestic violence — the latter being the most complicated, because it involves an adult older than age 17 who can legally consent to intimate behavior.
“Sexual relationships between coaches and student-athletes have become a serious problem,” states the National Collegiate Athletic Association in its official policy manual on the subject of coaches and players in a romantic relationship titled “Staying in Bounds.” Coaches dating players is a common occurrence, even though highly discouraged by the NCAA, and banned by the policy guidance of many colleges and universities. When older adult coaches have sexual relationships with students under the age of 18, however, there is no gray area, legally or otherwise; it’s pedophilia, harassment and abuse all rolled into one illicit act.
“It’s horrific and it’s criminal, and I’ve come to believe it’s an epidemic,” said Cindy, who said she doesn't believe the problem only existed in her generation. A recent search of headlines across the nation indicates she's right. As recently as March of this year, two separate cases in New York involved male soccer coaches, one aged 29 and another aged 57, abusing girls aged 14 and 12. Last year, soccer-related cases in Missouri and New Jersey involved an 11-year-old girl and a 33-year-old man, as well as a 16-year-old girl and a 32-year-old man. Truly horrific soccer cases in Maryland in recent years involved children, a girl aged 7 and boy aged 8, once again indicating that young boys are in no way immune.
The patterns of behavior are almost always similar: the assaults follow often long periods of grooming to gain trust of the players, and usually their parents, and can often be accompanied by the quid pro quo of gaining favor with a coach in exchange for playing time. Cindy’s case was textbook. By the holiday season of her junior year in high school, Cindy said she finally found the strength to tell the coach she wanted to end the physical relationship. He, in turn, immediately put her on the bench. Though she was clearly one of the Dirty Dozen’s best players, a forward who would soon score 50 goals during her record-setting career at Western Washington University, she was suddenly an afterthought in most of the team’s games. “In my mind it was over and I just tried to wrap everything up and put it in a box and stick it in the corner of my head never have to think about it again — except that I still had to play for him,” said Cindy. “He made it very clear to me that if I wanted to play in the game, I needed to pay his price.”
Desperate to perform in the Coca Cola Skills Challenge in the spring of 1980 so she could showcase her talents for college coaches, Cindy turned one last time to the coach for a ride to and from Lake Washington near Seattle. As they approached her house on the way back from the event, he veered his car toward the church where they had stopped dozens of times before and popped the clutch, which abruptly stalled the car’s engine. “The car battery must be dead,” she recalls him telling her. She said she immediately gripped the door handle as tightly as her hand could squeeze while her long-time assailant stared in her direction. Just as she was preparing to jump out, he started the engine and drove her home.
Heading into her final year of high school that fall, after nine years of playing with virtually the same group of girls, Cindy made a decision that was just as hard as trying to stay away from the coach; she quit the Dirty Dozen and joined one of their arch rivals, Team Adidas, from Tacoma. “My lifelong friends were furious with me, and I couldn’t even tell them why I needed to do it,” she said. “I couldn’t tell them that (the coach) would show up at the seafood place, Moby Doug’s, where I worked and try to talk to me, then just sit there. I just had to get away. . .”
LIGHTING ONE CANDLE AT A TIME: “By any account, Cindy is a person who has her shit together. . . successful soccer career, her professional career, and friends who care about her,” said Amy Carnell, a fellow Washington state soccer star who served as the first general manager of the Seattle Reign, one of the 10 member teams of the National Women’s Soccer League. “Like many survivors, the corrosive aftermath of abuse is kept out of plain sight.” When Cindy was not invited back to the National Team after 1986, she continued to play soccer for the legendary Cozars team founded by Governor Booth Gardner and coached by Berhane Andeberhane, among others. She was a key player on the area’s over-30 national club championship team and left behind enough of a legacy and impression that, as recently as 2016, she was voted along with Hope Solo and Michelle Akers as one of the top 18 players in state history in a poll of regional experts commissioned by the Washington Youth Soccer Association.
Cindy has indeed enjoyed a significant and stable post-soccer profession. After receiving her biochemistry degree from Western Washington University, where she’s a member of the school’s Hall of Fame and still ranks as its third all-time leading scorer, she joined the staff at the biochemical genetics lab of Seattle Children’s Hospital. More than three decades later she’s a laboratory development scientist who helps create diagnostic testing for testosterone and estradiol levels in youth who are contemplating gender transitions. It has been a fulfilling life and work, she said, yet lonely at the same time. She has never married or had children; her last attempt at a romantic relationship with a man ended more than a decade ago.
Cindy’s assailant died in 2006 at the age of 82 — which is why we have opted not to use his name in this story out of respect for his family — but she said she has never really been able to shake the memories associated with her secret. She feels her low self-esteem led her to accept unreliable, even abusive, treatment from men and that the idea of another relationship seems like “too much work.” She has turned instead to her dog, Elsa, and, sometimes too often, to alcohol. “Am I an alcoholic? Well, I don’t call it that,” she said. “I call it a substance abuse disorder. But, yeah. In fact, I got a DUI (Driving Under the Influence) in 2009. I actually stopped drinking for five years because I was on a deferred prosecution plan. And then I started again because it was obvious to me if I could stop drinking for five years, then I didn’t have a problem with alcohol. The problem is that I was introduced to alcohol at such a young age, as an early teenager, that somehow it triggered something in my brain that if I drink at all it’s like it’s never enough. I just feel so good, so out of my own head, that I just want to keep it going.”
A cleaner, more clear pathway began to present itself in May of 2019 when Cindy came across an article shared on-line about Dr. Laura Anton, a pediatrician from Dallas, who had come forward with a story that sounded all-too familiar. Dr. Anton, once a national caliber soccer player who earned a scholarship at George Mason University in the mid 1980s, had been groomed by her youth team soccer coach into a long-term sexually abusive relationship. “Her story was my story,” said Cindy. Then, in 2020, Cindy also read Amy Carnell’s revelation. Lured into a soccer club by a coach who openly bragged about having coached National Team legend Michelle Akers during her Washington state youth career with a team known as the Shoreline Thunderbirds, the Carnell family never picked up on the clues that Amy was also being drawn into abuse. “I Needed to be Rescued,” read the headline in Cindy’s hometown newspaper, the Seattle Times, that broke Amy’s story and brought forth a flood of others who reached out. For the last several months the three women, Cindy, Amy, Dr. Anton and others have formed an informal support group of “soccer survivors” who meet regularly on ZOOM calls. The other women in the group, excited about the progress Cindy is making, have encouraged her to come forward and share her story.
“She’s been left to suffer in silence, until now,” said Amy. “I’m so proud of Cindy’s courage.” Dr. Anton said Cindy’s recognition that she was, in fact, abused is the most significant step toward recovery. “It’s almost universal that victims of this kind of trauma try to put it away, to package it as a child would, then put it in the dark recesses of the brain,” she said. “It festers, creating shame and dysfunction and depression and anxiety. And so the only path to healing is to first recognize that you were a victim—and then trying to release yourself from this life of lies.” Dr. Anton said she won’t forget the first time Cindy contacted her. “She said something in my article had stuck with her when my therapist kept saying, ‘Laura, you can be one of those first candles. You light your candle in the darkness, and then your candle lights another girl’s candle in the night and then she lights another girl’s candle — so you start to spread light into the darkness.’ It’s monumentally important for Cindy to come out of the darkness for herself, to step out of the shame and start healing. Cindy’s candle will be a very, very powerful one, for herself and so many others who will hear her story and say, ‘Me too.’”
WE NEED TO DO MORE: Having made the decision to come forward, to try to leave behind the guilt and any notion that any aspect of her childhood story is her fault, Cindy still can’t help but wonder what might have been. What if, for example, her father had stayed connected to his family? “I can see now, as an adult, that my mother and father were not a well-matched pair,” she said. “But I do think that, when you make the conscious decision to bring children into the world, that also means you’re making a commitment to be there for them.” What if, she wonders, her coach “had simply been a decent human being?” Maybe she would never have helped the National Team win World Cups in 1991 and 1999 like Michelle Akers or Mia Hamm, but she dares to go there in her mind. “Sure, I do think about how far I could have taken soccer in my life,” she said. “Because I really, truly love the game with all my heart. And he took that from me, not the love of the game, but the ability to become the best version of myself within the game.”
Robin Rowland wonders too. She has been friends with Cindy her entire life and, until that night sitting under a blanket on that sandbar in the Puget Sound, the worst trouble they had ever been in together was sneaking onto the high school field and turning on the lights so they could practice more soccer after hours. “She was so funny, so smart, so much fun to be with,” said Robin, who was a mere two-feet away when her best friend’s life began to unravel. Robin, too, said she bears guilt for not doing something to stop their coach in his tracks. “You look back and say, ‘I should have seen the signs,’ but I had no clue,” she said. “I just had no clue. If I did, I would have decked him right then and there.”
Cindy said she would occasionally search on-line find out bits and pieces of information about her assailant’s whereabouts and she learned, for example, that his wife filed for divorce in 1980 while Cindy was still in high school. “I used to think about ways to confront him and inflict pain, like the pain he inflicted on me,” she said. “But now that he’s dead, and I’m meeting with these other women, I realize I’m luckier than some of the other survivors of abuse whose perpetrators are still walking around, in some cases still being allowed to coach young girls.”
She sees the next phase of her life as a work in progress, with good days and bad. During the weeks of conversations in preparation for this story, Cindy asked for breaks at times when the reliving the memories was just too painful, or when having a drink seemed like a better idea in the moment. She went for a long walk with her father in late March and, for the first time in her adult life, asked him about his own drinking and how he found the strength to quit more than 20 years ago. “I told him, I admitted really, that I was still struggling,” she said. “He said, ‘I know it’s hard, because I just started drinking Diet Coke. I had Diet Coke everywhere.’ It was a simple answer, but it was really kind of nice to talk to him about it — being something I never felt comfortable telling him or anybody in my family. It was sort of my shameful secret, but I guess I’m trying to be more authentic with people.”
She said her biggest focus, nearly 36 years after hearing the National Anthem play in Italy, will be to use whatever platform the National Team has given her to spread the word that everyone in soccer needs to do more to stop a silent plague. “Parents need to be educated and children need to be warned,” she said. “That coach you think is being really nice to your daughter, or your son? Maybe they are just being nice. There are definitely some really great, amazing coaches in this world and I played for some of them. But for your children’s sake, you need to assume that no child is safe when left alone with a coach . . . as sad as that may sound, it’s advice that can literally make, or break, their lives.”
Pioneers: Pam Baughman-Cornell, an Outdoor Life Well Lived
INTRODUCING: Pam Baughman-Cornell
COLLEGES: University of Central Florida, George Mason University
THE CAREER THAT ALMOST WASN’T: Soccer launched at Fairfax High School in Virginia the year Pam entered the school as a freshman and, having played for the Fairfax Police Youth Club for coach Ron Dietrich, she was considered a great area player — yet went unrecruited well past her graduation date in 1981. When the father of Michelle Jardin, a player from the nearby Braddock Road soccer club, recommended Pam to Jim Ruby, the coach at the University of Central Florida, she showed up in Orlando sight unseen and immediately became a college All-American and team MVP with 18 goals and 11 assists. Almost as quickly, she flunked out. “I just wanted to be outside; I really, really had a thing about being inside a building all day,” said Pam. “I just felt like that’s not where you learn; you learn outside. I needed to be out in the environment. Also, in college, there’s a lot of distractions and it was my first time away from home for any lengthy period. The truth is, I just didn’t go to class.”
PUT ME IN, COACH: After a year back in northern Virginia at a community college to get her grades in order, Pam walked into the office of Hank Leung, then the coach at George Mason University in her hometown of Fairfax. The school had just started its soccer program in 1982. “I’m going to come here and play soccer,” she said matter-of-factly. “His jaw dropped, because he knew what I had just done at Central Florida.” Hank had never seen Pam play previously. "I heard about her from all the northern Virginia girls on the team," he said. "She walks in and I think, 'Is this for real?' It was a bit of magic as far as I'm concerned."
BRING ON GOLIATH: Joining future National Teamer Lisa Gmitter, among many others, Pam instantly helped elevate George Mason's status. In their first year together Lisa and Pam led their team to the national championship game against North Carolina, where they were soundly defeated 4-0. The following year they lost 2-1 in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Colorado College and its four-time All-America goalie, Janine Szpara (who is prominently featured in our book, Raising Tomorrow’s Champions). Immediately after that game, Hank raised a lot of eyebrows in the locker room when he pronounced to his players that George Mason would win the national championship the following year. “In that moment, we were just devastated,” said Pam. “He sat us down and said, ‘Start preparing for this tournament next year. You guys are the winner.’ I was just furious. I'm like, ‘How can you say we’re going to win — after we just lost! The pressure!’ How could he safely say what’s going to happen a year from now? But he planted that little seed in our heads . . .”
A SIDE TRIP TO ITALY VIA BATON ROUGE: A few months after that loss, yet just weeks prior to her senior year, Pam was among about 70 women invited to Baton Rouge, La., to the Olympic Festival. Picked for the first-ever National Team after that tournament, and starting in its fourth-ever game, on Aug. 25, 1985, against Denmark, Pam had already made George Mason history as its first USWNT member – but still had some unfinished business back in the states (Note: Pam scored a goal for the National Team in a 3-0 victory against Canada in 1986).
MANY PERSONALITIES, ONE TEAM: Nothing seemed to be going right when Pam got back to campus in the fall of 1985. Admittedly out of shape after her summer vacation, she spent more time in the training room than on the field. With their coach’s proclamation defining the season well in advance, teammates bickered, both on the field and off. They had all the talent in the world — the roster featured Pam and Lisa, standouts Sue Vodicka and Andrea Baines, as well as future National Teamers Chris Tomek, Kim Maslin-Kammerdeiner, Betsy Drambour and Kim Crabbe — but they often collectively rolled their eyes, especially when Hank would have the players practice meditation at halftime. “You don’t let college students lay down and close their eyes or they will fall asleep,” said Pam with a laugh. Pam and the other team captains, however, called a meeting and encouraged the players to listen to the coach, whether they agreed with him or not. The coach's offbeat approach would pay off on the morning of Nov. 25 when Pam hobbled into his office in tears with a leg injury so painful she didn't think she could play in the national championship game that afternoon. In that moment, Hank was going through the roster with Peggy Puig, a therapist who utilized the techniques of applied kinesiology in her approach to healing. "Two minutes later, Pam walked out of my office ready to play," said Hank. "Peggy had aligned Pam's 'chi,' her free energy." As described on Page 134 of Raising Tomorrow’s Champions, it was Pam’s goal, off a cornering pass from Lisa Gmitter — and a misplaced heading of the ball by North Carolina’s injured National Teamer Stacey Enos — that helped beat a Tar Heel team that some thought invincible after 56 consecutive games without a loss. “That (team) meeting made all the difference in the world; we didn’t have to agree on everything off the field, but we needed to accept what Hank was telling us. The life lesson was to have a clear vision of where you were going. It worked.”
AN OUTDOOR LIFE: Having married her high school boyfriend, Glenn Cornell, in January of their senior year at GMU, Pam has never strayed far from soccer. She has coached either youth, high school and college teams since well before she retired from playing, which included three national 30-and-over women’s club championships. She has also remained true to her life’s mantra that the best environment for learning is outdoors. Pam and Glenn have been involved with vineyards, have taken numerous wilderness excursions — Pam has hiked the Appalachian Trail on multiple occasions — and raised a pair of soccer-playing outdoorsmen, Nick and Brian. The family exudes happiness in its vast collection of experiential photographs; Brian has even turned his passion into a vocation as an outdoor writer. “He is living out of the back of his pickup truck right now, somewhere in Nevada, I think,” she said. “And, yes, I sleep fine at night. We told our sons they were going to be independent, they were going to go away to college, and they were going to be able to take care of themselves. That’s how we raised them.”
Pioneers: Gretchen Zigante, the First Full-Time Professional Women's Soccer Player
INTRODUCING: Gretchen Gegg Zigante
COLLEGES: Universities of Washington and North Carolina
LOVE AT FIRST SITE: Gretchen said she knew within a minute of stepping on the middle school soccer field practice for the Dash Point Dashers that soccer was the only sport she would ever take seriously. Though Gretchen would have preferred to remain a field player, one of the area’s many pioneering girls coaches, Dan Swain, quickly saw her potential as a goaltender and recruited her for his Team Adidas club that ruled the soccer landscape in Tacoma, Wa. “I’m not sure he thought I was that good, but he did think I was brave,” she said.
18-0 AND NOWHERE TO GO: Amidst the birthplace of American women’s soccer that the Tacoma-Seattle area of Washington state represented, Gretchen soon found herself playing with or against many of the 12 other women from that era who would join the National Team via her club team, the Cozars, which competed for national championships for several years. Her Hall of Fame teammate Michelle Akers was the legend in the making, but the area also produced Sandi Gordon Yotz, Cindy Gordon, Lori Henry, Denise Bender, Shannon Higgins-Cirovski, Kathy Ridgewell-Williams, Denise Boyer Merdich, Amy Allmann Griffin and Sharon McMurtry. Gretchen even allowed her future National Team teammate Lorraine Figgins Fitzhugh to live for a year on her family's 25-foot sailboat in the Seattle harbor when Lorraine was attending the University of Washington and fighting with the school administration about adding a women’s varsity team. As Lorraine told us in her interview, the UW club team was beating all comers, including an 18-0 season in 1984, but were denied the opportunity to play for anything but pride.
MOM VS. MOM: Gretchen’s biggest rival might have been the other goalie, but instead the pair were each other’s biggest supporters and instigators of hijinks. “There’s not a human being in the world that doesn’t like Amy Griffin; she’s one of my greatest friends to this day and will be forever,” said Gretchen. “Our mothers, on the other hand? They were fiercely competitive with each other about who should be playing the most, Amy or me. That carried on for years.”
THE NATIONAL TEAM: Gretchen declined to attend the infamous tryout in Baton Rouge, La., in 1985 for what became the first National Team. “I honestly didn’t think I was that good,” she said. She changed her mind in 1986, however, and National Team head coach Anson Dorrance liked what he saw enough that he not only offered her a spot on the roster, he also offered her a scholarship to attend North Carolina that fall for her senior year. Though she suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament after college and was sidelined for long periods — with no surgery to repair it — Gretchen managed to remain a regular attendee at National Team camps through 1990 and appeared in two games, one in 1986 and the other in 1990. “I think I was in the best shape of my life at that point and I gave it my all,” she said. “When I didn’t get picked for the World Cup roster in 1991, I was at peace with the decision. I was in the stands when they won in China in 1991 and I was in the Rose Bowl with my mother in 1999 and I still felt connected to the players and the team.”
THE CALL THAT OPENED A HUGE DOOR: The day after being cut from the National Team, Gretchen received a phone call from Hiro Watanabe, a professional men’s player from Japan who she had met while completing her college degree at Idaho State University. “He said, ‘Did you make the team?’ When I told him I had been cut, he said, ‘Great! That means you can come to Japan.’” Hiro, who was instrumental in developing Japan’s team that beat the United States in the 2011 women’s World Cup, helped Gretchen land what is believed to be the first-ever full-time professional contract for an American woman in soccer. The Fujita Tendai paid her six million yen annually, along with housing and other covered expenses — which was the equivalent of a $30,000 American salary with myriad other benefits from 1990-1995. With Gretchen serving as an unofficial ambassador for the only professional women’s league in the world at the time, several other Americans followed her to Japan, including Stanford standout Heather McIntyre and 1999 World Cup hero Brandi Chastain.
CULTURAL DIFFERENCES: Sexism was rampant in the early 1990s in Japan, as evidenced by the marketing pieces for the women’s matches that Gretchen saved. Still, she said the experience was positive overall. “I was treated very, very well,” said Gretchen. “Once they trust you over there, that means everything.” The men of Japan, however, were not necessarily used to seeing women with muscular physiques. “I had a man in the supermarket walk up to me and say, ‘Your legs look really strong!’ He proceeded to grab my legs right there in the store to test how strong they were.”
THE FAMILY BUSINESS: While still under contract in Japan, Gretchen was back in the U.S. in 1993 recruiting players to come to the Orient when she met a man on an airplane who seemed unusually impressed with her status as a professional goalie. “He said, ‘If you’re a goalie, you need to come train with my friend.’ He kept going on and on and on about his friend, Ziggy.” When that same man called a day later, she agreed to drive to a soccer field outside of San Diego where she met Nenad “Ziggy” Zigante, a goalie for Dinamo, the top team in what was then Yugoslavia. At the end of their first encounter, Gretchen invited him to go sailing in her mother’s boat. “There he is in his thick Croatian accent trying to find the words to say ‘Yes’ . . . ‘I’m very sorry, but I would like to come.’” The couple’s daughter, Susana, was raised playing goaltender in the U.S., but due to her father’s heritage, she has become a member of the Croatian women’s national team.
THE LONG, WINDING ROAD: With teaching the art of goaltending as their calling cards and the only jobs they’ve known, the Zigantes have traveled the nation and world together in the past three decades. Gretchen has coached in Japan and for colleges in Colorado, California and New York, including a year as interim head coach at Cornell University. In more recent years she has focused on club soccer, but only on her terms. “There’s a lot of crazy people in this game right now,” she said. “I’ve been in situations where the club team’s parents think they know more than I do, so I tell them, ‘Then I guess you don’t need me,’ and I’ve moved on.” In 2018, they landed in Heber City, Utah. “It’s a small community and more mello,” said Gretchen, who works with a local soccer club and previously coached the high school team. “I see this as my retirement job.”
Pioneers: Ruth Harker, The Goaltender With a Heart of Gold
INTRODUCING: Ruth Harker
COLLEGE: University of Missouri-St. Louis
PAYING HER WAY: Though her brother was supported in his desire to play sports growing up in the Bridgeton Terrace neighborhood long since taken over by airport expansion in St. Louis, Ruth was encouraged to be a cheerleader. She wanted no part of it. “I was Forrest Gump as a kid, running everywhere I went,” said Ruth. “My body and mind just needed to be in motion. But my mother didn’t believe girls should play sports.” Finally, when Ruth entered high school, her mother agreed to let her join a local soccer team, as well as the track, cross country, volleyball and basketball teams at the high school — as long as Ruth earned the money for cab fare to get to and from games and practices.
AN UNLIKELY GOALIE: The running drew Ruth to soccer, but her lack of experience dribbling and shooting the ball led her coach, Marge Rosenthal, to give her a try as goaltender. Having been born blind in one eye, which she kept a secret from teammates and coaches, she struggled at first with depth perception. “I still remember the first goal I ever gave up,” said Ruth, who is featured prominently in the book “Raising Tomorrow’s Champions” in the chapter focused on adversity. “The ball bounced in front of me, and then right over my head and into the back of the net. After that, I just tried to anticipate where the ball was going to be and made sure I got there first.” Within a year she was recognized for her fearlessness and talent and was invited to international competitions in Sweden.
THE NATIONAL TEAM: Between her junior and senior seasons as a starter at UMSL, where she was team captain and MVP, Ruth traveled to the Olympic Sports Festival in Baton Rouge, La., in July of 1985 and earned one of the 17 spots on the first-ever U.S. Women’s National Team from coach Mike Ryan. When she entered the game as a replacement for Kim Wyant in the third and fourth games in National Team history, Aug. 23rd and 24th against England and Denmark, Ruth earned her only two career appearances (known in National Team parlance as CAPs). “I’m guessing I had the shortest overall soccer career of any National Teamer in history,” said Ruth, an engineer who now serves as vice president of Swan Packaging, a food-service company. “Since I didn’t even start playing until I was 14, and retired at 22, my entire run only lasted eight years. After that, I needed to go get a job.”
AN AUTHENTIC LIFE: Just prior to her selection to the National Team, Ruth started coming to terms with aspects of herself she had never explored previously. “In hindsight, I look back at my childhood and think about those crushes on (female) camp counselors,” she said. “There were crushes on my friends. At the time, I didn’t know what that meant. I was taught girls were supposed to be with guys so, of course, I dated a guy in college. It wasn’t until my junior year of college that I acted my true feelings with a woman.” Still, living in a conservative midwestern community, she didn't feel truly accepted by her mother and hid her true identity from many people for many years thereafter. She shares a dramatic story on Pages 206-207 of the book in which she needed to defend herself from a man who objected to her appearance at a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game.
GIVING BACK: “When you grew up like I did . . . poor, gay, confused . . . it leads to a lot of thoughts of depression and even worse, suicide,” said Ruth. “To the degree that I can help others from sharing my story, my experiences and the gifts that life has given me, that’s my primary focus now.” Ruth has served on the board of Easter Seals and is well known among the generations of National Team teammates for her generosity and compassion. When Michelle Akers’ horse rescue farm was in dire financial condition and the legendary player was selling many of her trophies and gold medals to raise money, Ruth was among the players who bought the items from Michelle, gave her the money, and then returned the memorabilia. Heading out to the 2019 National Team reunion held in Los Angeles in honor of the 20th anniversary of the 1999 World Cup champions, Ruth stopped in Chicago to pick up Preston Klug, a 12-year-old goalie suffering from a brain tumor. “My teammates made him feel like king for the day,” said Ruth, who is happy to report that, two years later, Preston is doing well.
THE LEGACY: Ruth is a huge fan of the current iteration of the National Team, calling out Sam Mewis for her humor, Alex Morgan for her generosity and Megan Rapinoe for stating aloud what’s been true for the National Team since the beginning: “You can win without the gays, baby! That’s science right there.” Ruth also holds a kindred feeling of warmth toward fellow goaltender Adrianna Franch, a woman who has likewise had to endure gender-based taunting and discrimination based on her appearance. “I just really like her; she’s such a good human being,” said Ruth. “Adrianna is so personable and really seems to appreciate and understand the role that the pioneers played in opening the doors for the women who came afterward.”
MOMMY'S GIRL: With her step-father, Ezra Barton, having passed away on Jan. 17 of this year, Ruth's mother, Kathy, was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness. Ruth is thankful for the time they have been able to share together in recent weeks, including conversations that have helped heal old wounds. "My mother believed what she believed back in those days and I don't blame her for that," said Ruth, who was elected to the St. Louis Soccer Hall of Fame in 2019 and her college’s Hall of Fame last year. "My mom is tough, ferocious really. And, before she met my 'Pops,' she was a single mother who got four children through college. She clearly did something right."
Abusive Behavior: When Does a Coach Cross the Line?
I stood on a sideline this weekend and rolled my eyes at an opposing team’s coach just before I moved as far away from him as the stands at the soccer stadium would allow. Even from the top row I couldn’t get away from the sounds of his constant hollering, badgering and criticizing of his players. “Damn, that dude needs to just chill out,” said my friend, who had come with me to watch my daughter play an otherwise quiet game.
We interviewed more than 20 coaches for our book, “Raising Tomorrow’s Champions,” including Anson Dorrance, Chris Petrucelli, Lauren Gregg and Becky Burleigh, some of the most successful men and women in the history of soccer. If there are two common denominators Joanna Lohman and I uncovered as we spoke to the coaches — as well as the National Team players who experienced their behavior along the way — it’s that they often win, and they occasionally make people cry. It just happens. The celebrated phrase, "There's no crying in baseball," doesn't apply when you're talking about young players with soccer dreams and coaches who dole out playing time and advice, sometimes loudly and colorfully.
We shared dozens of coaches' stories amongst the book’s 20 chapters and, to at least one potential reviewer, some of the anecdotes we shared seemed uncomfortably close to an unacceptable threshold. “Don’t you think you should have called out these actions for what they are: abusive treatment?” asked the journalist.
Except for a few notable exceptions that you’ll see if you read “Raising Tomorrow’s Champions,” Joanna and I consciously steered clear of making these kinds of value judgements when we retold the stories of the National Teamers and their coaches. We left that to our readers, the parents and players, to decide for themselves; we wanted anyone dreaming of a high level soccer career for their child to understand that demanding coaches are part of what you sign up for when you start writing checks to soccer clubs in hopes of getting money back in the form of an athletic scholarship — yet those demands should not include constant screaming and demeaning of players.
When does a coach cross the line? Anoher phrase, “I know it when I see it,” infamously first invoked by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in a landmark 1964 case that first attempted to legally define obscenity, seems to apply in the same way to coaching abuse — which means that, unless the abuse is physical, it’s often unclear if truly unacceptable behavior is happening. It’s also true that situations that can feel abusive to one person are perfectly acceptable to a teammate.
Joanna tells the story on Page 195 of RTC about a psychologically abusive coach who had no business being on the field. On Page 117, Jessica McDonald defends her club team coach, who had eventually been fired from the club due to inappropriate use of profane language. Throughout our seventh chapter, on the subject of coaching, Marian Dalmy Dougherty details her complicated relationship with Santa Clara University coach Jerry Smith. Put off by his bluntness, she loathed him as a teenager, yet came to think of him as one of the most positive influences in her life by the time she graduated. On Page 59, Joanna tells the story of a young girl who nearly quit soccer because her club coach’s behavior was literally giving her nightmares.
“I know that, for myself, I needed to feel safe around my coaches or I would walk away,” said National Team pioneer Denise Boyer Merdich, who became a coach herself. “There were situations with certain people that just didn’t feel right to me and that would be my advice — that if the coach doesn’t feel right to you, doesn’t feel safe, then walk away.” Yet Denise also noted that tough practices and constructive criticism are all part of the package of a competitive environment. “Having a coach ride your tail, or running extra sprints? That’s not the kind of behavior I would be worried about. But if a coach is doing something you really think is inappropriate, then talk to your parents, talk to your safe person, and leave that coach if you have to.”
I know I wouldn’t allow my daughter to play for the coach I observed this past weekend. No amount of winning or on-field development would be worth listening to the heap of obnoxiousness being spewed the entire game. But was I witnessing abuse? At the end of the game, his players were all smiling and, from the outside looking in at that moment, one might conclude that I was the one being overly sensitive. That’s why these answers are rarely black and white.
Our Book's Goal: To Give Back
Generosity, in the form of gifts, donations or scholarships, helped launch the careers of numerous National Teamers. Giving back is also the core spirit that drives our book project.
“At the time, I didn’t even realize (the financial assistance) was happening,” said 2019 World Cup champion Jessica McDonald, who was discovered at age 12 by the Sereno Soccer Club of Phoenix. As detailed in the pages of Raising Tomorrow’s Champions, Jessica’s family didn’t have the money for dues and travel for tournaments, but the community always stepped up with support. “As I got older, everything hit me: ‘Oh, my gosh, no wonder why I was always at my teammates’ houses.’ It was as if I had 18 other parents! I’m very grateful that people were willing to pay for my brother and me to play club soccer because we wouldn’t be where we are today without it.”
National Teamer Danesha Adams, likewise, was already on U.S. Soccer’s youth team radar at age 15 when her family dynamics changed suddenly. While Danesha was away at an international tournament in Chicago, her mother moved from southern California all the way to Ohio — but Danesha didn’t want to leave her club team behind. For most of her high school career, the friends and families of the FC Slammers of Newport Beach purchased first-class roundtrip plane tickets. Danesha boarded the 5:05 p.m. flight west on Friday evenings, and took the red-eye back to Ohio at 11:58 p.m. on Sundays, then lived with various families during summers and other extended periods for tournaments. “That’s what got me into UCLA, being a part of that club and the support of all those Moms and Dads. I’m still close to many of them today.”
Believing that the benefits of playing soccer ought to be available to everyone, regardless of their social or economic situation, we have pledged a portion of the proceeds from the sale of each book to numerous non-profit causes. We are also making the book available as a fundraiser to soccer clubs and other organizations that tie the soccer experience to social causes such as gender, race and LGBTQ+ issues.
“We wanted to create a program that would give young girls a chance to play, teach them about health and wellness, that it’s OK to be bold, to have a voice,” said Brandi Chastain, the soccer Hall of Famer who co-founded of one of our partner organizations, BAWSI (pronounced bossy), the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative.
“One of the things we do at the Mia Hamm Foundation is to encourage and empower girls through sport, and it doesn’t mean you have to be on the National Team,” Mia told us. “At the end of the day, it’s not about who plays at the highest level, it’s just about all those life lessons you learn through sport and how that can impact your life going forward.”
It’s amazing for everyone involved when young women like Jessica and Danesha, and several others, take that spark provided by generosity and take their games to the highest level. The most moving stories and photographs in our book, however, came from the girls most people will never hear about; they just love, and benefit from, the game. Thank you, in advance, for helping to make a few more of those possible.