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Claremont women build friendships on and off the field

As the story goes, it all started at a faculty party in the late 1970s when Pitzer professors Ann Stromberg and Steve Glass, along with Claremont City Attorney Wynne Furth, got to talking about soccer.

Ms. Stromberg and Ms. Furth were inspired by watching their children compete in games sponsored by the American Youth Soccer Organization, and wondered why there wasn’t a league for adult women. Mr. Glass, who was an assistant soccer coach at Pomona-Pitzer, apparently told them that if they could put a team together, he would volunteer to coach.

They took him up on the challenge and, to attract more members, created a flyer that asked three questions: Do you want to know what your children are up to Saturday mornings? Do you want to see if you can run the length of a football field? Do you sometimes feel the need to kick something very hard?

It worked pretty well. The first Saturday morning roughly 42 years ago, more than 40 women showed up to try their hand, or rather feet, at this game called soccer.

The group didn’t have a name at first, but after a few months Ron Macaulay, whose wife Janet was on the team, suggested they adopt the name Claremont Older Women’s Soccer.

And so the COWS were born.

“We all really liked it and thought it was funny,” Claremont resident and charter COWS member Meg Mathies said about the name.

Many of the original COWS grew up in an era before Title IX rules required females and males to be given equal access to athletics in high school and college. As a result, as Ms. Mathies noted, the women had little or no experience in sports, particularly team sports.

“Most of us had never kicked a ball,” Ms. Mathies said, so those first few weeks Mr. Glass had them learning the basics of manipulating a ball with one’s feet.

Assisted by his son Greg Glass, Mr. Glass was a rigorous coach, setting aside 50 minutes of every workout for drills, teaching the COWS how to use the inside of the foot for dribbling, and how to do throw-ins and headers.

“We had to learn not to stop and apologize if you kick someone,” said Georgeann Andrus, another original member of the team.

“At first we were just like the AYSO kids chasing the ball around,” she said. But soon they were good enough to play a game with the “B” team from Pomona-Pitzer. During that game against the Sagehens, one of the players pushed Ms. Andrus to the ground, resulting in a gash that required five stitches.

“She got a red card,” Ms. Andrus said, referring to the most severe level of foul in soccer. “But we tied them.”

A retired classics and archeology professor, Mr. Glass fondly recalls the years he coached the COWS.

“They really put women’s soccer on the map locally, and the fact that it’s still around is gratifying,” he said. “It was a point in time when women’s soccer was getting its due.”

His wife Sandy Glass sewed the team a handful of red vests so they could easily divide into two teams.

“I’m not going to allow them to do shirts and skins,” Ms. Mathies recalled Ms. Glass saying at the time, a reference to the common practice in male schoolyard games for one side to shed their shirts.

They bounced around from location to location, but eventually settled at Parent’s Field at Claremont McKenna College, where they continue to play every Saturday morning at 8 a.m.

On a recent weekend, 18 women ranging in age from 25 to 73 showed up for the 90-minute weekly game. They do not keep score, describing it as a competitive but friendly contest (now divided into reds versus yellows. The yellow team won, 2-1).

About 15 years ago they relaxed the strict “older women” part of the moniker because too many players were retiring and moving away. Now they have a number of mother/daughter pairs including Cindy and Summer Sargent and Christine and Kaylin Anderson. Debbie Whisler said that at one point both her daughter and her mother played on the team.

“I have been playing with these ladies for 25 years,” said 73-year-old Mary Nuñez. “I am the oldest so they have to pay attention to me.”

Age hasn’t slowed her down much, as evidenced by Saturday’s game where she chased down the ball, often with a much younger woman chasing as well.

And this is a dedicated group; last week Chetana Srinivas showed up for the Saturday game even though she was getting married later in the day. Others play with knee braces from injuries related to the sport.

Many of the women play in other leagues, including a big one in La Verne. But those groups all formed during the past 30 years and owe a debt of gratitude to the COWS for being trailblazers.

“We are kind of a farm team.” Ms. Andrus quipped.

At the COWS’ annual Christmas holiday party, teammates, including those who no longer participate, socialize and collect money for charities including House of Ruth. The camaraderie is part of what makes the team so special, with many forming deep friendships.

Ms. Mathies and Ms. Andrus first met in the mid-60s but soccer is what has made them so close.

“It’s been an enriching part of my life, [building] an appreciation of sports, along with the wonderful friendships and exercise,” Ms. Mathies said.

“And a chance to kick something very hard once in awhile,” Ms. Andrus added.

—Steven Felschundneff

steven@claremont-courier.com