The Greek philosopher Plato believed that there were two worlds – an unseen world of forms that was the ideal, and the apparent world, which patterns itself after the ideal, but is constantly changing. Thus, there is the “perfect chair” somewhere above us in the firmament, while there are myriads of varieties of chairs here in the physical world.
If modern soccer were around in Plato’s time, he most likely would have envisioned his prototype of the ideal soccer player. Now there are millions of soccer players, all with their own shapes and forms. In 1977, some of those took the form of women who made up a team called “The Santa Clarita Valley Spurs.” They were a mixture of heights, weights, and ages – one, barely out of her teens, but the majority were mothers, whose closest link to a soccer ball up to that time had been standing on the sidelines cheering for their sons and daughters.
A few of them eventually ventured on to the field to help their husbands coach a sport that was relatively new to the American psyche. From this nucleus, a fledgling team began to emerge, inspired by one of their ranks whose husband was a soccer whiz.
Ernie Mendez, a coach and member of a recreational men’s soccer team, could maneuver around frustrated defenders like a spinning sprite, conjuring up magical feats of ball “handling” with his feet. His wife Eugenia encouraged Ernie to use his skills to teach a group of enthusiastic matrons the difference between a goal kick and a corner kick; and to resist the urge to catch the ball with their hands whenever it bounced their way. Not an easy undertaking for some whose gut reaction while running down the field to intercept a pass was to stick out an arm, rather than a leg.
Luckily for Ernie, there were a few who had spent a semester or two in school learning some of the basics of the game. There were also some who excelled in other sports and used their athletic abilities to make up for their often awkward attempts to tame the black and white sphere with their feet. After a few months of Saturday afternoon teaching and work-out sessions, a fairly cohesive team emerged that was eager to test newly acquired skills against teams from other areas.
The author is on the bottom right
In 1979, the team began burning up the San Fernando Valley soccer fields in the B Division of the Tri Valley Women’s Soccer League – a division that included women in roughly the same age group. (While none of the players came close to being classified as “over the hill,” when one of them mentioned “36,” she most likely was talking about her age, not her measurements).
The season ended with an impressive second place in the division following a narrow defeat by the San Fernando Valley Charlie Browns. On a frosty February evening in 1980, the Spurs joined other soccer teams at a Tri-Valley awards banquet held at the Knollwood Country Club.
Goalie Lori Soper, the “kid” on the team, was the evening’s big winner, receiving a certificate for having the lowest number of goals scored against her in league play. Lori was helped in this impressive feat by a solid line of defenders which included Diane Martin, Doris Armstrong, Joan Hofferber, and Barbara Lawless (and yes, even this columnist. (My sons used to joke, “How often can a guy say his mother was a fullback?!”)
The halfbacks who helped keep the ball from slipping beyond midfield included Peggy Stratton, Carla Morning, Fran Bodman, Lynn Gabrielson, Carol Garcia, and Linda Roth.
Scoring attacks for the Spurs were led by Lorraine Bowman, Susie Hermann, Wendy Schroeder, Anita Affa, Dana Barnett, and Eugenia Mendez.
All the players received trophies from Coach Mendez before taking to the dance floor to perform some other fancy footwork. When the team members weren’t dancing or talking about league play, they were discussing a two-week trip that a few had signed up for at the end of the season. The trip included an international soccer adventure in New Zealand the following month – an encouraging sign that not all athletic opportunities are reserved for youngsters.
Following their success in the ‘70s, the team moved into the ‘80s, honoring their coach by adopting the name of “Ernie’s Angels.” The women and significant others also maintained close friendships off the soccer field long after competitions were over. They planned private get-togethers and field trips, and participated in fundraisers for the youth soccer programs – the catalyst that had brought them together.
Soccer, and women’s soccer in particular, has come a long way in the United States since those early days. Now posters of pony-tailed stars often adorn teens’ walls alongside those of rock bands. The stars of today may well be the epitome of Plato’s ideal, but for a while, there was a variety of players from Plato’s “apparent world” right here in the Santa Clarita Valley who still have little gold soccer trophies gathering dust in their closets.