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Never Imagined

By Ron Signore

My whole life growing up revolved around sports. Until high school, then girls shared the spotlight of my attention. Baseball became an early interest for me. I was always enticed by watching White Sox games at an early age. The voice of Ken “The Hawk” Harrelson, who people either love or hate, would entertain, and enlighten the game for a 4-year-old me. He drew out an excitement for my soon to be childhood baseball hero, Frank Thomas, by bellowing his begotten nickname of ‘The Big Hurt,’ and his famous call of ‘You can put it on the board….yessss’ after a Sox home run.

I still love baseball to this day, but like any young child in the 90’s in Chicago, I added basketball to my heart, and dearly. Collecting cards and jerseys for both sports, of which I still have today, you could easily find me outside playing one of the two sports with the neighbors, or in organized youth leagues. And no matter which, attending these pro sport games live was arguably the fondest moment of my childhood. Of course, seeing Michael Jordan dunk, or Frank Thomas go deep was exciting, but ultimately the biggest love was the time spent with my dad. Memories I will never forget as long as I have the capacity to remember.

As I grew, choices had to be made. At one point in about 6th grade, I stopped growing vertically. Horizontally was a different story. With that, I turned to try out wrestling. It turned out to arguably be the sport I was best at, and in the long run made me better as a football player and even baseball player. Make no mistake, I could belt homers over minor league stadium walls, and protect the quarterback as a center like no one else, but I don’t know if I would have had the success in those two sports if not for wrestling.

One sport I loathed was soccer. I mean, the worst part of any sport is running, why would I ever want to do that. I did however, because of a girl, joined track in 8th grade and ended up being on the 4×200 relay team. I believed that the difference between soccer and watching paint dry was the ball. Many of my friends played soccer. Many had an interest in watching the World Cup…I couldn’t care less. All I knew was people would call me Ronaldo, or Ronaldino because of some soccer player and it kind of annoyed me. It was better than Ronald McDonald taunts, which began in kindergarten.

Something changed in life. I had kids. Furthermore, I had girls who really shared zero interest in baseball, which was a heartbreaker. Of the two girls, I had one who didn’t really like sports altogether, and another who developed a love for soccer at the age of 3. I used to joke with my wife that I would never been seen at a soccer field, so wish our daughter luck. The habitual view I had developed around the sport was likely to be unbreakable.

As my daughter, now 9, grew, so did her love, nay passion, for soccer. As we moved to Indiana, just for some daddy-daughter time, we decided to attend a Notre Dame Women’s Soccer game. This not only caused pain as someone who was not a soccer fan, not only as a Purdue grad, but also someone who had even less interest in college or pro women’s sports. I was around for the genesis of the WNBA, the Women’s World Cup winning memories, yet still, the excitement never reached me. I don’t think I was alone either since revenue or fan attendance for women’s sports paled in comparison to those of the men’s sports.

This ND Women’s Soccer game was the turning point. We watched them throttle a weaker Western Michigan team 4-0, led by Maddie Mercado, Olivia Wingate, and Eva Gaetino. Between the combination of seeing some things unfold strategically, and my daughter’s excitement, I was hooked. I was excited to gain some interest and knowledge of the sport my daughter loved playing so much, but more importantly on a selfish level, it made me feel like as loving as a father as mine was with us when we were growing up, highlighted by trips to Comiskey or the UC.

The interest evolved. It has gotten to the point where you will likely see an English Premier League game on our tv on Saturday mornings as opposed to College Game Day. Like most of the world, you couldn’t get me away from the tv for the 2022 World Cup. The reality is soccer has taken over our lives for the better. I never imagined that not only soccer would take over, but ultimately, women’s soccer. In fact, its about a 95/5 split in our house in favor of women’s soccer. We only miss ND Women’s Soccer games if it conflicts with one of my daughter’s scheduled matches. We try not to miss any Paris St. Germaine Feminine’s games because two of the idols my daughter has are on that team now after departing Notre Dame. Eva Gaetino and Korbin Albert are two very inspiring figures for my daughter, as are those ND ladies in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL): Brianna Martinez, Mackenzie Wood, Maddie Mercado, and Olivia Wingate.

The NWSL over the past couple of years has taken an immense trajectory of growth. It’s correlation to the US Women’s National Team brings the portrayal that the USWNT is an All-Star team for the league with all but a few players on the team play in the NWSL. But then these all-stars started to bring fandom to different cities across the states. It is resemblant of a rock star going on tour. The difference is that these athletes are very accessible, thus very inspiring. Names like Alex Morgan (San Diego Wave), Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit), and Mallory Swanson (Chicago Red Stars) all play their hearts out every game, then take the time post-game to take pictures and sign autographs for (mostly) the kids.

I have seen it go well beyond soccer. This year, the Women’s Final Four captured the nation. Led by Iowa’s Caitlyn Clark, the country fell glued to these games. The aftermath is on the same trajectory. As Clark graduated, she was the predicted number one draft pick for the Indiana Fever in the WNBA, of which in anticipation of landing her, Fever season tickets sold out. We are seeing a rise in college and professional women’s sports popularity, and in my opinion, competitively as well. With more attention and more money going to these programs or professional clubs, revenues start to correlate with talent acquired, er go competitiveness. The more competitive, the more popular.

My advice: don’t be like I was. Do not be the stereotypical jock, which now only seems more misogynistic in reality. Support these ladies in their rise to triumph. Support them as they grow to elite levels. Observe them and allow them to inspire our youth athletes to be strong and break the mold. Show our youth athlete’s that the stars are not impossible to reach, and one day, they can be the next Trinity Rodman, or Caitlyn Clark, who are not just great athletes, but incredibly kind individuals they should aspire to be like.

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