Acts of Liberation, A Kick at a Time

The millionaires of summer are back, as you couldn’t have failed to notice. And with the commencement of a baseball season that, we are promised, will not be cut short by a lockout, the poets of the press box have revisited their epic themes of hope and renewal and purity and blah-blah-blah.

You want epic? You want hope? You want renewal? You’ll have to tear yourself away from cable television’s pre-pre-game interviews and the banal in-game banter and get yourself to Morningside Heights on Tuesday, April 9. There, beginning at 5 p.m. at Columbia University’s Baker Field ,several groups of women will put on what might appear to be a perfectly ordinary soccer clinic and exhibition game. Perfectly ordinary, that is, if all you see are some women of varying ages and skill levels running around in short pants and acting out some female version of male mid-life crisis.

Look closer and you will find the purity and renewal and hope that only the short of sight still associate with that branch of Global Entertainment Inc. known as professional sports.

The occasion is a fund-raising event to help underprivileged women in Harlem who are going through breast-cancer treatment. Wendy Hollender, an Upper West Side resident, founded the program and helped organize the fund-raiser at Columbia. Ms. Hollender herself is a breast-cancer survivor. She also plays soccer, for a team in the Bronx Irish League called the Parlour Moms, a group of women that came together several years ago at an awards ceremony for soccer-playing children. Talented, complex and determined, these women were not the sort of people who watched life from the sidelines. So they hired a coach who taught them the game, and now the Parlour Moms are in their fifth year of competition.

“We have some players who’ve never played sports, and others who never played soccer,” Ms. Hollender said. “And what we’ve found is that it’s not about how good you are, it’s about how much you love it, and how much you’re willing to learn.”

Following a 5 p.m. clinic by the New York Power, a professional women’s team, and the Columbia University women’s team, the Parlour Moms will play a team from New Jersey called Goals for Life, a charitable organization that grew out of a women’s soccer boom in Montclair, N.J. Like the Parlour Moms, most of whom live on the Upper West Side, the New Jersey women discovered soccer through their children, and found in team sports a side of themselves they didn’t know existed, or that had been dormant for years. “I never had that experience growing up,” said Beth Albert, a Montclair resident and publicist. “I was 40 years old when I started playing, and it’s been absolutely liberating. It’s a feeling of great freedom, of feeling like a kid again, the way kids must feel all the time-you know, it’s no big deal to run around and get muddy.”

Lisa Ciardi was one of the founders of the Montclair women’s soccer movement-and that’s really what it became, a movement of empowerment and liberation-in 1998. “I was on the sidelines, watching a kids’ game, and the ball came by and I stopped it with my foot and kicked it,” she said. “The coach said something like, ‘That’s pretty good. Do you play?'” She didn’t, but not for long. What followed-a joyful awakening through sports-provided Beth Albert’s husband, New York Times sports columnist Harvey Araton, with material to fill a book. In Alive and Kicking , Mr. Araton not only captures the spirit of these highly motivated women, but also reminds us that sports can still be an inspiring and ennobling enterprise.

The fund-raiser at Columbia, which will conclude with a match between the Power and the university’s women’s team, promises to be one such example. Many of the Parlour Moms will be no strangers to Ms. Albert, Ms. Ciardi and the other New Jersey women. They’ve met in charity tournaments before, putting their newfound skills and interest to use on behalf of breast-cancer research. Through soccer, they have not only become more involved in their communities-both their own neighborhoods, and the more global community of breast-cancer survivors and sufferers-but they have met and been touched by people they would never have known otherwise. “We play on a team, but we’ve expanded that idea-we may watch each other’s kids when somebody is sick, or cook them a meal. It seems natural,” said Ms. Albert. “It’s like a lifelong commitment.”

Those are not the words of a professional athlete. Nor, it seems fair to say, are they the words of a typical soccer dad or softball dad or pickup-basketball dad. But they are the words of somebody who clearly has mastered the fundamentals. Acts of Liberation, A Kick at a Time