“I was in gymnastics when my brother was in soccer and his team used to let me play with them. I hated wearing leotards,” she said.
Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, Cureton often played on boys’ teams. There was no all-girls soccer team, but the two or three girls who made the boys’ teams faced resistance.
“Boys were very threatened by it. It would be a lot of teasing. It was, ‘You must be a boy.’ It never affected me. I just wanted to play soccer,” she said.
Cureton went to George Mason University on a soccer scholarship but stopped playing competitively after college, partly due to injuries.
“I had nine concussions between 14 and 21. If there were concussion baseline tests now I would have never played in college,” she said.
Garcia, 52, was 16 when he moved to New York City from Bogota, Colombia.
“Oh my god, playing soccer is all we did. We’d play soccer waiting for the bus. We’d play soccer in the classrooms, in the hallways. We’d come home and play in the rain,” he said.
But in the U.S., the soccer-crazed teen from Colombia could barely find a game.
“In the Bronx there was a park near where we lived where some Europeans played. Me and my brother used to play there a lot. Everybody was playing football and basketball and baseball,” Garcia said. “I lost a little bit of the drive to play when we came here.”
After high school, he joined the U.S. Army and played some, then became an aviation mechanic for United Airlines, which hosted employee soccer tournaments.
Garcia, now an engineer for a San Francisco water treatment plant, spent 18 years coaching boys’ soccer, including at his now 20-year-old son’s high school.
“When I started coaching here in the United States, I didn’t understand why the parents didn’t want to let the kids play every day,” he said. “We never got tired. We never burned out.”