By Mike Woitalla
Sometimes we older folks feel compelled to tell our children about how different things were when we were kids.
No Internet. No cell phone. If you wanted to watch your favorite TV show, you had to be in front of the television right when it aired – and no fast-forwarding through the commercials.
Some of these stories amuse the children. (Show them a boom-box compared to an iPod.)
But when one explains that not too long ago playing soccer – or team sports in general – wasn’t an option for young girls, it prompts one to revisit and appreciate how the change occurred.
The 40th anniversary of AYSO launching girls soccer coincides nicely with this summer’s Women’s World Cup, at which, as usual, the USA will field players who got their introduction to soccer in AYSO.
“Why can’t we play?” was the question posed four decades ago to Joe Karbus, now known as the father of AYSO girls soccer.
The question came from girls who watched their brothers enjoying soccer in Granada Hills, Calif. Karbus, whose daughter Kimberly was among those asking, knew there was only one way to respond:
“Why not? Let’s start a league.”
Karbus grew up with the traditional American sports of baseball, basketball and football. He played junior varsity football at the United States Naval Academy and soccer still seemed like a foreign game when his sons, Joe Jr. and Tom, were lured to the sport by AYSO, which was founded in 1964.
“I was fascinated by all the movement,” says Karbus. “But it was obvious something missing, at least to me. The girls would be on the sidelines while the boys were playing and the girls would kick the ball around whenever one became available. They were dying to get into the action.”
Karbus got soccer balls from AYSO, pooled $5 contributions together to buy material for bibs to serve as uniforms, and launched a four-team, 7-a-side league with about 30 girls.
Seeing girls chasing soccer balls in today’s America is as common as spotting boys on the field, but back then it was such a novelty that the Los Angeles Times sent reporters to see what Karbus had started.
The Times' headline announced “Girls Get Own Soccer …” and reported that Karbus was coaching four teams, the Pink Panthers, Magnificent 8, Rockettes and Fillies. San Fernando Valley AYSO Commissioner Ron Ricklefs explained that “a core of girls who were less than content to repeat as cheerleaders for the boys’ games” inspired the organization to create girls leagues.
Karbus recalls, “It was so novel, but it was so natural, that it really caught fire.”
AYSO's launch of girls soccer predated Title IX and came long before the gender-equity law was enforced. When, in 1991, the USA won the inaugural Women’s World Cup, the team included Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett, Brandi Chastain, Carin Jennings-Gabarra and Mary Harvey, who all started out in AYSO.
American youth soccer has now become ridiculously expensive, but AYSO continues to provide low-cost soccer to American children because it clings to its belief in volunteer coaches while doing an excellent job providing age appropriate coaching education.
The U.S. team aiming to lift its third World Cup trophy this summer in Germany will as always include AYSO alums, such as midfielder Shannon Boxx, who helped the USA win Olympic gold medals in 2004 and 2008.
Alex Morgan scored six goals in her first 14 games for the USA, including a crucial strike in a World Cup qualifying clash with Italy.
"I played AYSO for about eight years until I began playing club at the age of 13 or 14," said Morgan, who starred at Cal Berkeley. "I continued to play AYSO because all of my friends in school played AYSO and still to this day are my best friends. I really enjoyed AYSO because it allowed me to play other sports. When kids get into club sports too early, they tend to get burned out with one sport too early and do not pursue soccer.”
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, played AYSO ball in Hawaii in the 1970s and now coaches youth soccer for East Bay United in Oakland, Calif. His youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)
Further reading: AYSO: Where The Volunteer Model Lives On