The Lady Bucs Soccer Camp begins today on the campus of East Tennessee State, but the campers won’t be on the field around 2:45 p.m.
They’ll be in front of a television as a group watching the U.S. women’s national team take on Japan in the Women’s World Cup championship game. New ETSU women’s coach Adam Sayers adjusted the camp schedule to allow the youngsters to see the big game, and they’ll be encouraged to wear red, white and blue.
“They’re from ages 10 to 18,” Sayers said. “Really that’s the group that could be potentially highly influenced by a game like this. We want to make sure they’re exposed to it and they watch it.”
Today’s game is the Americans’ first World Cup final since 1999, when they beat China in penalty kicks. That game, played in front of more than 90,000 fans in the Rose Bowl, signaled the beginning of women’s team sports competing on the highest level.
Tori Head, an ETSU junior forward from Kingsport, said that team, led by Mia Hamm, inspired her to become a collegiate soccer player.
“I remember being really excited to see people wanting to watch girls play,” said Head, who was 9 years old at the time. “When I was that age, nobody cared about girls sports in general, much less soccer. I remember thinking, ‘Maybe one day I’ll be able to do that.’ When I was 9, I wanted to play in college to be sure. Seeing that made it seem more real, that it was possible.”
The Americans’ run to this year’s final — they beat France 3-1 in the semifinals — included a dramatic penalty-kick shootout win over Brazil in the quarterfinals in which Abby Wambach scored in the 122nd minute, the latest goal in World Cup history. That game was recently voted as No. 5 on a list of all-time exciting American sports moments. Wambach’s goal won an ESPY as the best play in sports this year.
“They’ve all been very exciting,” said ETSU goalkeeper Caitlin Gaughan, a senior from Indianapolis. “Especially the Brazil game. It was the most exciting game ever, men or women.”
ETSU assistant coach Kristi Evans enjoyed watching the game against Brazil and noticed how people who weren’t previously interested in soccer got into it.
“The greatest thing about that game was I heard so many of my friends who never watched soccer, and so many guys who said, ‘I’ve never been into a women’s sports game ever,’ ” Evans said. “And it was crazy. They were screaming and running around.”
Sayers, who is about to begin his first season as ETSU’s head coach, said he hopes the Americans’ success on the world level will lead to growth in the women’s game.
“The U.S. team being successful in the tournament, it’s a great way for these young players to develop role models,” Sayers said. “It can have that sort of injection of enthusiasm from ’99. I think when it’s done in a dramatic way like it was in ’99 in a shootout and against Brazil with the late goal and a shootout, it can attract even more.”
Even though the ’99 team inspired a generation of young girls to play soccer, most have chosen not to follow one role model. When Brandi Chastain connected on the winning penalty kick, she famously ripped off her jersey, revealing her sports bra as she went to her knees in celebration. Like it or not, it’s still one of the most famous moments in women’s soccer history.
“My parents said, ‘Don’t do that,’ ” Gaughan said with a laugh.