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4/18/09 "But Girls Don't Play Soccer"

I realize that it's counter-intuitive to start a blog about girls and soccer with a picture of *boys* and soccer, but, well, I really like that picture. And I promise, we'll have pictures of girls really soon.

Today's story actually began several months ago, in October of 2008, when Peace Corps informed us that the People Of America had donated hundreds (possibly thousands) of soccer jerseys to the People Of Morocco. Exactly how the POA did this, I'm not sure. But we had hundreds (thousands?) of jerseys available to us, to be distributed as appropriate.

So we requested some - we being the PCVs working with Berberville's college and lycee teachers to organize a club for 3rd-year students [the equivalent of 9th graders]. We've been planning to hold a "soccer tournament" for the final few weekends of the schoolyear, and that time is upon us!

From the begining, we said that we wanted this tournament to be for boys AND girls. Which is when the teachers said, "But girls don't play soccer." We tabled the conversation at the time, saying only that after all, one of our long-term goals for the club is to develop leadership skills in the students, so we'll let the students--the male AND female students who come to every club meeting--organize the tournament. Over the many Saturdays we've spent on campus, with the club (holding meetings, painting murals, planting trees, etc), we've noticed girls on the soccer field. We brought this up with teachers, who shook their heads and calmly reiterated, "Girls don't play soccer."

It's really quite frustrating to have someone calmly and blandly say things you know to be untrue. But again, we didn't want to make a big thing of it, so we went back to our trump card: the kids would organize everything, anyway.

This past week, the students created the teams for the tournament: 8 teams of boys (7-10 players per team) and FOUR TEAMS OF GIRLS.

Fatima and I jumped up and down a lot when we got the rosters. :)

The students had originally planned to keep the tournament limited to the 3rd-year students, which would have meant a total of 12 girls. (Some other time I'll rant about the extraordinary drop-out rates among female students. For now, suffice to say, of the 3rd-year students - the equivalent to American high school freshmen - only 10% are female. Yeeeeah.) In their planning sessions, though, they must have changed that rule in favor of having an actual elimination-style tournament for both boys *and* girls, which meant that they opened the soccer tourney to every girl in the school, and netted FORTY eager players.

"Girls don't play soccer"?

The first two teams to compete selected the team names "Hope" and "Jasmine". And this afternoon, they battled it out for the chance to go to next weekend's championships. These girls knew their stuff. I saw headers, chesting, high kicks, straight kicks, tight passing, fancy footwork, and hustle, hustle, hustle. The teachers had originally suggested two twenty-minute periods, but after 20 minutes, the girls protested pausing for halftime. "We're not even winded yet!" they insisted. So the referreeing teacher agreed on the spot to extend the periods to 30 minutes each - the same length as the boys.

Oh, and to address the question that the boys wouldn't be interested in watching the girls play? Picture a crowd of one hundred and forty-nine boys and thirty-five girls, peering through shuttered eyelashes against the blinding midday sun, buffeted by frigid winds, blinking away the dust clouds being kicked up by the ... girls playing soccer. In slick-looking jerseys and headscarves. (Of the 20 girls on the field, only 3 have uncovered heads.) That's 184 students who are here to watch the girls' match. :D

After the final whistle, Jasmine had defeated Hope 2-0. The girls headed back to the dorms to shower and change, and the boys took the field for the battle of the Berber Lions vs the High School Lions. (Did I mention that the kids picked their own team names?)

The crowd whittled down slightly. 19 of the female spectators went down to the practice field to prep for their own game, tomorrow morning. A few more guys showed up. At the half, I counted 154 boys and 16 girls, for a total of 170 students watching the lions compete.

My favorite thing about the above shot is the contrast between the high-powered players on the field and the indolent spectators on the hillside above. :)

Final score: Berber Lions 2, High School Lions 1.

The third game should have started at 4pm, but things were running late, and it was 4:45 before the Lions finished up. The shadows were long, the team facing west had a blinding low-angle sun staring at them, and the chill in the air was making me shiver under my four layers.

But the students wouldn't hear of putting their game off till tomorrow, so at 4:50, the whistle blew for the match between the Berber Brotherhood and the Stars. Oh, and who was blowing that whistle? Not the teacher who had been refereeing the previous two matches. One of the most skilled players from the defeated HS Lions asked if he could ref the third game, and in the spirit of encouraging student leadership, we enthusiastically approved his request. I wondered if he'd show favoritism to his friends or exhibit any other shortcomings that would make me regret my decision...but he was phenomenal. Quick, responsive, alert, and brutally fair, he made the final match of the day feel professional. Final score: Berber Brotherhood 2, Stars 0. Next weekend's semifinals will feature the Berber face-off: Berber Lions vs. Berber Brotherhood.

Tomorrow, we have three more elimination matches - one for girls, two for boys - so stay tuned, sportsfans!

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