By DAVID JONES
THE SPIRIT’S RISING: Tulsa premier women’s soccer league, the Tulsa Spirit, is fired up about a packed home schedule starting in June. From left: Ashley Darling, Amy Gharibvand (UCF and ORU), Tamara Waller (ORU), Jessica Edmiston (ORU), and co-owner and coach, Ali Abibi.
GTR Newspapers photo
The Tulsa soccer landscape is about to take on a whole new spirit.
The Tulsa Spirit, a premiere women’s soccer league, is preparing for the 2008 season. If you’ve never heard of them it’s hardly surprising. A few weeks ago they didn’t exist.
Years ago the Spirit co-owner, Ali Abibi, coached soccer in his native Iran. One of his players was Nassoud Mozemi.
The two lost contact for a quarter century then met again in, of all places, Tulsa.
The friendship was rekindled.
Abibi had never lost his love of soccer. He coached the Tulsa Roughnecks, not when they were Tulsa’s team in the North American Soccer League but later when the NASL had folded and the Roughnecks played in the United States Independent Soccer League. Abibi coached both indoor and outdoor games.
When he heard about the Women’s Premier Soccer League, an independent league that is now the highest level for women’s soccer shy of the U.S. Olympic team, he and his former player, now a doctor, applied for a team.
“We applied for about two or three years,” Abibi says, “but there was no spot for us. They are very strong on the East and West Coasts but not in this area.”
Less than two months ago the league began adding teams in Texas and Oklahoma and the Spirit was approved. Abibi told the league he would be ready for the 2009 season. How about 2008? He was asked.
Hence, the team went into hurry-up mode.
It drew old friends of soccer. One of the honored guests at the press meeting announcing the team was legendary Tulsa Roughneck coach Charlie Mitchell. “This is great for Tulsa soccer,” he says. “I want to do everything I can to help.”
The Women’s Premiere Soccer League is not a professional league; the players are paid nothing. They do get traveling expenses but the amounts, from what they get for food to how much they can pay for a hotel room, are strictly limited.
Still, for female soccer enthusiasts, it is the highest level of competition shy of the aforementioned Olympic team.
Why would people take time out to practice and play a sport that will bring them no monetary reward?
“We just love to compete,” say Tamara Waller and Jessica Edminston, both of whom played soccer for Oral Roberts University. “We recently finished a marathon together. We do it for the love of the game.”
Ashley Darling, 18, had a different motive. She was home schooled so she didn’t get to display her skills on a school team. She is hoping that making a favorable impression during a Spirit game can lead to a college scholarship.
The helter-skelter atmosphere of the new Midwest soccer division of the WPSL can be summed up by reading the schedule: On announcement day the team was scheduled to play home games against a team from Dallas, one from Ft. Worth, one from Oklahoma City suburb Edmond and a team called South Select. Possibly games with teams from Albuquerque and somewhere in Colorado will be added, but these have not been finalized. It will be a compressed home season, the home schedule as initially released included: June 14, 7 p.m., Vitesse Dallas; June 15, 4 p.m., Ft. Worth; July 11th, 7 p.m., Oklahoma Alliance; July 13th, 3 p.m., South Select.
Ticket prices will range from $5 to $8.
All games will be played at the Tulsa Union Eighth Grade Center at 6501 S. Garnett Road. There will be no radio or television presentations of the games.
Asked what kind of crowds he was expecting, Abibi says, “We hope to have good ones. We’ve gotten lots of support from area teams who have expressed interest in coming.”
Next year? “We hope to add a boy’s team.”