Queens of the pitchFrom modest beginnings, the Sistas in Soccer women's recreational league has grown to the point that there are 70 names on a waiting list.
By RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press
Last year, London sisters-in-law Erin Weston and Christine Penny couldn't find a women's recreational soccer league to play in -- so they created their own.
"I was calling different clubs and getting frustrated, all the leagues seemed to be for competitive women playing at a high level," said Weston, a 28-year-old mother of three. "But on one call, I talked to Mark (Dwyer with the Nor'West Optimist soccer club). He was a big help, he said he didn't have anything, but could help us if we wanted to start a league. We put up some flyers, spread the news mostly by word of mouth and came up with the name Sistas in Soccer.
"We figured we'd get enough for four teams and have a nice little league."
Their expectations were modest. They signed up 240 players -- enough for 10 teams -- last summer with games at Lucas and Banting high schools.
When the league kicks off Sunday afternoon for Season II, the 'Sistas' will consist of two divisions, 22 teams and 550 participants playing at five north London athletic fields.
How popular has this female weekend ball-booting circuit become? There's a waiting list with 70 names on it.
"That's what we feel bad about, every day we get four or five more e-mails from women who want to get on the waiting list and they should all have a place to play," Weston said. "Clearly, there's a market there for a fun women's soccer league. But it's now become a full-time job to organize. Next year, we're probably going to have to form a committee because it's getting a little too much for two people."
It's easier than an empty-net penalty kick to see why the league is successful. It's $70 for 18 weeks of games and a team jersey. The participants are a neat cross-section of the London community and it's not uncommon to see an 18-year-old lining up alongside women in their 50s and 60s.
It's inevitable that one of these days there will be a grandmother, mother and daughter playing together as Sistas.
"There's also a huge range in experience and ability. Some players have played travel soccer growing up, while others have never played before or haven't since high school," said Penny, a respiratory therapist currently on maternity leave. "We try to make the teams as even as we can -- there's two divisions, but just because there's only so many jersey colours.
"The younger women are the most competitive. We were 19-and-over last year, but the local league for 18-year-olds got cancelled, so we absorbed many of those players."
Overall, most of the women enter the league with a good working knowledge of the game.
"We get a lot of soccer moms who go to their kids' games, stand on the sidelines and think, 'I can play this,' " Weston said. "It's funny, even the conversation around the dinner table has changed. Before, the talk was all about the kids' game, but now, you'll hear children saying, 'Mom, I saw you score that great goal.' "
One of these days, the kids will be dropping their mothers off for games.
"We got started for selfish reasons, we just wanted to play," Penny said, "but it's developed into a lot of fun. Teams will organize barbecues, it's very social and there's no pressure. There's practice time during the week, but they're not mandatory because everybody's busy."
The league is also encouraging its members to get out and run in the Make-A-Wish Foundation run/walk event on June 27 at TD Waterhouse Stadium.
"Hopefully, we'll have 550 reasonably fit soccer players out there raising money for a great cause," Weston said.
But in the afternoon, it'll be back to the beautiful game for London's coolest -- and most surprising -- soccer sisterhood.
SISTAS IN SOCCER
Season II kickoff: Sunday, 3-6 p.m. at north London athletic fields