“I thought my shoes might melt,” said Nicole DiIoia, a player on the Christiansburg Sharks, after finishing a game in sweltering conditions in Herndon, Va.
Four travel soccer teams from Christiansburg got to experience high-level soccer in Northern Virginia as both competitors and guests of DC United.
Playing against a strong Herndon soccer team on an astroturf field on a hot Saturday afternoon required a special degree of commitment by not just the players but the parents. The heat radiated upwards from the field on a sweltering 95-degree day in Northern Virginia. Even so, the teams were playing hard, and competing on equal terms.
Just three short years ago, Christiansburg Soccer Club did not exist. The club was developed not just to expand the opportunity for recreational soccer, but also to develop players who could make the high school teams more competitive. From that start in spring of 2009, there will now be six teams from Christiansburg playing competitive soccer in the fall.
The Northern Virginia trip was scheduled to give the players a glimpse at soccer at its highest level. The four Christiansburg teams participating in the weekend games on Aug. 4-5 were playing Herndon Soccer Club teams that compete in a league that has almost as many teams (500) as the Christiansburg Soccer Club has players (700). One of the Herndon teams ranked as high as 4th in the nation last year. The skill level of the teams and the commitment required to compete at that level were an eye-opening experience for both players and parents.
Caitlyn Caudell, a rising fifth-grader at Belview Elementary and a member of the Christiansburg Mustangs, was impressed by the trip and the competition.
“I enjoyed getting to know my teammates better by hanging out with them on the trip. I also learned a lot by playing two very good teams from Herndon,” she said.
After the Saturday afternoon game, the teams had very little time before they hopped on the Metro to make their way to RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. to watch DC United play the Columbus Crew in a Major League Soccer game. As the players soon found out, nothing moves quickly in Northern Virginia. The 30 miles from hotel to stadium took more than two hours due to construction and traffic. As a group, the parents were all glad they did not live in the gridlock that is NoVa.
From the kids’ eyes, however, this was an exciting part of the experience.
“Getting to high five the DC United players was really cool, but riding the Metro was the best,” said Jeston Hendricks, also a member of the Mustangs.
The high fives almost didn’t happen. The teams were all invited by DC United to be part of the pre-game activities on the field, and to be part of a high-five tunnel to welcome the players onto the field, but the traffic delays put them at risk of missing that special part of the weekend. The teams arrived in the nick of time, and the players were escorted onto the field.
The players were too young to know the history of RFK Stadium, but the history was not lost on the coaches. Mike Adams, coach of the Christiansburg Griffins, marveled at how the teams were making the same walk onto the fields that had been done in earlier times by Redskin greats such as Joe Theisman and John Riggins.
The DC United game itself was a source of wonder for players and parents alike. The ease with which the players controlled and passed the ball showed everyone the beauty of the sport when well-played. The visiting team was clearly overmatched, and a number of penalties were called against the Columbus Crew as they tried to use physical play to overcome their deficiency in skill. In the end, the players got to see the home team win, and made their late-night trek back to the hotel for as much rest as possible before their morning games.
The Sunday morning games did not feel any cooler, and were played in the shadow of high-rise buildings and traffic. David Dunkenberger, whose daughter Logan was on the field playing for the Christiansburg Griffins, put his finger on what was so special about the Northern Virginia experience. He looked around and remarked about the activity that was all around us. At this one elementary school, there were seven soccer fields, and five of them were filled with young players, teen-aged players, and even an adult-league game. This experience was being repeated over and over again at so many of the fields in Northern Virginia.
The Northern Virginia families were doing something right in their concrete jungle: They were showing a level of activity that was an idea worth taking back to the New River Valley. The weather, which still felt hot enough to melt our shoes, we gladly left behind.
Article published in The Burgs, August 14, 2012. View article here