Kicking the ball for women's soccer

JIM KERNAGHAN, Free Press Sports Columnist

, Last Updated: 11:16 AM ET

For somebody who never kicked one, Ada Edwards sure knows how to keep a ball in the air. Quite a few of them, in fact, as the veteran soccer administrator gets set for the 30th anniversary of the London and Area Women's Soccer League.

So, how does a non-player find herself founding a league and becoming its first president? "Maybe because I didn't know what I was getting into," she says with a laugh.

Ada laughs a lot. It's not a bad idea to have a sense of humour when one has devoted three decades of time, effort and sometimes her own money into an undertaking that hasn't always been gratifying.

In fact, it's been a struggle much of the time to keep that ball in the air, which is one of the reasons she will be honoured Monday night at the London Sports Celebrity Dinner and Auction as sportsperson of the year.

In ways, she is representative of the many volunteers whose work rarely gets notice.

Without them all, amateur sports would flounder.

That ever-present laugh attends the very notion of being recognized.

"Oh, I don't think you do these things looking for any credit, because you're not," she says. "You see it as something that's needed, something you can do for somebody else."

She got involved 30 years ago after watching a men's indoor soccer game at the old Ontario Arena. She wondered aloud why there was no soccer for women and girls when Bev Headley, seated ahead of her, asked the same question.

Along with Loraine Johnston, the league was formed. Players were given free registration the first year. They weren't taken seriously at first but Edwards prevailed and was allowed to sit in at meetings of what is now the Western Ontario Soccer League to get a handle on running a league.

From six teams, the league has grown to 34 registered for the 2005 season. Edwards also is secretary of the men's league.

There aren't a lot of differences in their games in terms of skill sets as women's soccer has blossomed. Edwards recalls a group of women hockey players from Western registering to play soccer as a conditioner for hockey, then focussing most of their attention on soccer.

"We play the game as well as men at our different levels. We've found, and the referees have found, they're out there to play soccer and if something happens on the field, it happens. In the men's game, sometimes there's somebody looking for revenge."

It wasn't a straight run to the league's current stature.

"There've been a lot of ups and downs," Edwards said. "You think you're going ahead and fall back a bit. But the last five years has been an eye-opener," she said in reference to the growth of the game. "It's been marvelous having such focus on the (Canadian) international teams.

"That game in Edmonton a couple of years ago when they had 47,000 people (for a Canada-USA g Under-19 game) was tremendous. There's something for players to aim for, such as the provincial level of play and further."

One of Edwards' fondest memories was when one of the teams won the Ontario Cup in the early 1980's in Toronto. It was tangible proof that the program was succeeding.

"On the way back, somebody filled the cup with beer and everyone had to have a drink out of it," recalled the retired communications supervisor from The Child and Parent Resource Institute. "It was a fun time. And I don't even like beer."

The league is hoping to attract some of the original players to its annual banquet in the fall.

What if the response is too big for the facility?

"Well, we'll just run another one," Edwards said, laughing.


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