BEYOND THE BOOK BLOG

Pioneers: Lorraine Fitzhugh, Paying it Forward

Published: January 23, 2021
Written by: Paul Tukey

With more than 150 interviews conducted throughout 2019 and 2020, we gathered far more material, about far more people, than could fit in one book. We will use this space, focusing on the earliest members of the National Team, to shine more light on the life lessons they shared.

INTRODUCING: Lorraine Figgins Fitzhugh

NICKNAME: “Fig”

COLLEGE: The University of Washington

Lorraine Fitzhugh today, still rocking the old jersey!

CLUB TEAM: Lorraine was a member of the Tacoma Cozars, which was notably sponsored by Booth Gardner (1936-2013), the two-term governor of Washington, who was a significant soccer benefactor for a region of the country that produced a disproportionate number of other early National Teamers, including: Michelle Akers, Sandi Gordon Yotz, Cindy Gordon, Amy Allmann Griffin, Joan Dunlap-Seivold, Lori Henry, Denise Bender, Shannon Higgins-Cirovski, Gretchen Gegg Zigante, Kathy Ridgewell-Williams, Denise Boyer-Merdich and Sharon McMurtry.

The 1987 Cozars, featuring coach Berhane Andeberhan, back row second from left, and Lorraine next to him, sporting the red

NATIONAL TEAM: Lorraine appeared in one game, the second all-time victory for the U.S., 3-0 against Canada in the North America Cup on July 9, 1986. She was thrilled years later when this team was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in honor of those first early wins.

The 1986 U.S. Women’s National Team . . . Lorraine is in the middle row, third from right

PARENTS AS COACHES?: Lorraine was never coached by her father, Bryan, a talented soccer player himself, yet figures she was luckier than her younger brother in the long run. “I remember there was a Time magazine article at the time that described 'station wagon syndrome,' which refers to children who have to go to and from practice or a game with the parent-coach. That was true for my brother, Doug, who was pretty much held hostage the whole time, with my father analyzing everything from top to bottom on the way home. My brother had a more difficult time because he was under a microscope with my dad. I wasn’t … because I was female. I went and did everything completely on my own — and I think there’s a lot of value to that. Ultimately, you have to want to do it on your own.”

BACKSTORY: Lorraine, known as “Fig” to her teammates, was born in England in the 1960s — where it was still illegal for girls to play soccer. That law changed in 1970, but even after she had moved to the United States with her family in the 1970s, it never occurred to her father that he could sign her up to play. One day, when he saw a group of smiling young women playing soccer at the University of Washington, it dawned on him that his first-born child had been missing out on all the fun. "My father always felt badly after that because I had missed all those years when I could have been playing."

EARLY ADVERSITY: Lorraine was cut from the Washington state team, which would have been the pathway to the western regional team that competed in the annual Olympic Festival where the National Team was originally chosen. She doubled down on effort, getting in the best shape of her young life, and ultimately received a phone call from legendary coach Berhane Andeberhan, the Cozars’ coach, who was putting together an “open” team of players from around the U.S. “I was running circles around people because I had something to prove,” said Lorraine, who was offered a scholarship by North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance based on her showing at that Olympic Festival. She opted to stay home and attend the University of Washington instead. “I saw Anson about 10 years ago at a convention where he was speaking. He said, ‘You’re the one who turned me down!’”

WHY SOCCER: “I had a mentor, his name was Greg Teslovic (her middle school basketball coach), who would try to pull me away from soccer because he said I was good at everything and I needed to pick a sport that had a future — because in those days you didn’t think there was a future for girls and women in soccer. I said, ‘No, this is what I love to do.’ The running, the vision, being outdoors. Nothing else really compared for me.”

NATURE OR NUTURE: “For me, I was only 5-foot-5 and fairly petite, so my strength had to come from my brain, my fitness and my preparation. I had an incredible drive that I think was just inside me from birth and I started out being competitive with my brother, who was an excellent soccer player himself, but then that just exploded once I started getting older.”

TOUGHEST OPPONENT: Long before the rest of the world knew about Michelle Akers, who was named player of the century by FIFA (The International Association of Federation Football) in 2002, Lorraine would fret about how to keep the younger player from the neighboring town in check. “The fact that I was obsessed with her at that age tells you I knew how good she was. But I’m so thankful for the experience of playing against her, because it made me better to have someone like that to go up against.” She also credits her success with playing with and against boys, something we heard time and time again from other National Teamers from all generations. "Stepping onto the field with men was always motivational and taught me the importance of skillful play at speed. Bringing that back to practices on our teams raised the level of play for the females."

STANDING STRONG: During Lorraine's time at the University of Washington women's soccer was only considered a club sport, with the team members relegated to barnstorming the west coast in rickety vans and sleeping on crowded apartment floors. As a junior, after an undefeated season on the club circuit — "we were 18-0 with nowhere to go!" — she led the way in petitioning the university to elevate the team to varsity status. "The athletic director said something to me I will never forget when we met personally. He asked me how old I was, what year I was in school. I answered, 'I am a junior.' He responded that when I left and graduated, I would forget about it. That stung and made me very mad." A few years later, however, Lorraine's teammates, Lesle Gallimore and Amy Allmann Griffin, became coaches of what would become one of the nation's most respected women's soccer programs known for producing several National Teamers, including goalie Hope Solo and current assistant coach Tina Frimpong Ellertson. "I lived two miles away, rode a bike to practice and school past the location that is now the women’s varsity field. I dreamed of that happening and could not have been more thrilled."

COACHING ADVICE: After that single National Team appearance, Lorraine rejoined the Cozars, finished college and married her biggest fan, Ed Fitzhugh. With no professional league to pursue, she became a high school math and AP science teacher and, eventually, a coach of three high school state championship teams. She said she doesn't regret not having a longer career on the field, but enjoys sharing life lessons from the game with her students. "I always knew I wouldn’t play soccer long term... My goal was to help students gain confidence in problem solving, knowing those skills make for a good life." She shares some more of her wisdom on Page 246 of “Raising Tomorrow’s Champions.”

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