SEATTLE — YOUTH isn't necessarily an advantage in soccer, says Maj Ljungstrom Surowiecki. A Swedish expatriate who took up the sport in Seattle 11 years ago, she says she expected her relative youth and athletic fitness to make her a star in an ``over 40'' league.
``I learned after five minutes,'' Mrs. Surowiecki says, remembering how the skills of the other players humbled her hopes. Many of the over-40 players are so zealous about the game that they play several games a week - by participating on teams in the open (all ages) and over-30 leagues as well.
``This is a hotbed of soccer,'' says Bernadette Noonan, a charter member of the Washington State Women's Soccer Association (WSWSA) in 1974. Washington has the highest per-capita soccer participation of any state and formed the first over-30 league, she says. The greater Seattle area, which had nine women's soccer teams in 1974, now has 155 teams in 11 over-30 divisions, three over-40 divisions, and 6 open-team divisions.
BOTH women say they expect an over-50 league to develop. Already they play informally with other women over 50 during the off-season in winter, when the other leagues don't play.
The rise of women's soccer here has come through tireless volunteer effort by Noonan, Surowiecki, and dozens of others who serve as organizers and ``walking billboards.'' Noonan's current role is as a coordinator, helping new players find teams. Surowiecki is WSWSA's treasurer.
Years of behind-the-scenes work were ``repaid a thousand times'' in June, Noonan says, when she was named one of 24 MasterCard Ambassadors of Soccer prior to this year's World Cup matches in the United States.
Seated in the breakfast nook of her kitchen, she shows off a photo of herself with Pele, the former soccer superstar from Brazil. For each country that came to the tournament, one person of that nationality was honored for achievement in promoting soccer in the US. Noonan, born in Ireland, was the only woman selected. Surowiecki was one of three other women among 95 finalists.
Though both women hail from soccer-enthralled Europe, they were introduced to the game as Seattle mothers watching their kids play.
Surowiecki has since coaxed her husband into joining a team.