Katey Fawcett carries on 1999 legacy
Five years before she played her part in women's soccer history in front of more than 90,000 fans in the Rose Bowl, Joy Fawcett just wanted to play soccer.
It was eight weeks after the birth of her first child, and Fawcett was nervous about losing her place on the national team. She was already a mainstay for the country by then, already a world champion, too, after she played for the United States when it won the first FIFA Women's World Cup in 1991. But out of sight is out of mind in sports, and the 1995 World Cup was only a year away with a new coach in charge of the American side. Fawcett wanted to get back on the field and resume her career.
Lesle Gallimore, then newly hired as coach at the University of Washington but also an assistant coach at Cal when Fawcett starred there in the 1980s, told her to bring the baby and come play on a team the coach was taking to that summer's Olympic Sports Festival in St. Louis. It was a chance to get her feet under her again. One problem. Upon seeing mother and daughter in the cafeteria, organizers told Fawcett a baby was a no-go in the dorms. A local family with young children of their own stepped in to offer lodging. So began a lifetime of logistics.
"It was an interesting first round to the beginning of a long career with kids and bringing them along," Fawcett said. "It was good learning to deal with adversity that first round."
It also proved to be something of a turning point in two soccer careers in the Fawcett family.
A new women's college soccer season begins on campuses around the country this week. The 1999 Women's World Cup didn't create the opportunities available to the thousands of women involved, but the legacy of the event remains firmly part of the sport. Yet enough time has elapsed between that Rose Bowl match and the present that many of those now on college rosters remember it the same way people in their 30s remember the "Miracle on Ice" -- through highlights and the stories of those older than them.
The 1999 World Cup produced a generation of girls who wanted to be like those players. We now sit at the threshold of a generation that never saw them.
"It's a little bit sad now that there are a lot of kids who don't remember it because they were tiny," Gallimore said. "Even this era of kids we're coaching, it's a whole period of time in our sport that's starting to, I wouldn't say wane because people hear about it, but they don't have firsthand recollections like we do."
By most measures, that demographic ought to include a sophomore at the University of Washington who was 5 years old when her mom converted the second of five shootout kicks to help the United States beat China in the 1999 Women's World Cup. But Katey Fawcett remembers plenty about that day. She remembers the heat of a July afternoon that saw the temperature rise above normal in Los Angeles. She remembers the endless sea of people in the stands. She remembers the confetti that fell around her on the field when it was over. And she remembers her mom standing on the podium.
From that first trip to St. Louis when she was 2 months old through three more Olympics and three more World Cups her mother played before finally leaving the game in 2004, Katey was almost always along for the ride. It wasn't until she settled in at school that it even dawned on her that most moms didn't travel the world playing soccer.
"I would go on trips with her, and people would ask me where I was going," Katey said. "I would tell them, and they would always be shocked and amazed. That was when I first really realized that my mom does something really special and I get to tag along and that's really cool.
"Before that, it was kind of just what my life was. I didn't realize it was that much different from anyone else."
But not everyone had arguably the most famous team in the history of women's sports as baby-sitters.
Now the head coach of the Portland Thorns in National Women's Soccer League, Cindy Parlow Cone made her national team debut as a player a year and a half after Katey was born. For the next decade, she shared the field with Joy and watched Katey, and eventually younger sisters Carli and Madilyn Fawcett, grow up off the field.
"It was such a wonderful environment on the national team," Parlow Cone said of a group that also eventually included defender Carla Overbeck's two children. "Regardless of whether you had a bad practice or things weren't going your way or whatever, you always came back from practice and there were their smiling faces so excited to see, obviously, their mothers coming back, but also the rest of us."
Joy never pushed her children toward soccer (she likes to point out that middle daughter Carli retains a passionate disinterest with an impatience for the sport). But it was Katey who spent the most time standing around practice fields and watching games and has the sharpest memories of watching her mom play. So perhaps it makes sense the oldest child gravitated toward the game.
Joy looked around the Southern California club soccer scene and worried it was too intense, that it might lead to burnout -- perhaps somewhat surprising for someone who balanced playing international soccer with raising three children. With Katey primarily in mind, she and husband Walter started their own soccer club, Saddleback United, which they hoped could offer a better balance between competition and sanity. As the years progressed, college coaches like Gallimore told Joy that Katey needed to play at a more competitive club if the latter wanted to play Division I college soccer. Joy and Walter asked Katey if she wanted to switch. She didn't. She felt a loyalty to the girls who were her friends, as well as teammates.
There was still a place for her at Washington with Gallimore and associate coach Amy Griffin, who played with Joy on the 1991 World Cup team and is also Katey's godmother. Katey needed to catch up to the pace of the college game and played sparingly for the Huskies as a freshman. But she is not around solely because of her name. Although smaller at 5-foot-2 than her mom, she has the speed and endurance to be a factor as an outside back. She also has more institutional knowledge than anyone her age rightly should.
"She's watched a lot of soccer, so you can tell she understands the game and has maybe a better sophistication tactically than a lot of kids," Gallimore said. "Katey's been great for us. I see good things in her future. She's really taken it on herself to learn and grow. She does remind me a lot of Joy. She's got this quiet confidence about her."
At least one person believes the torch has already been passed.
"On the field, I think she's better," Joy said. "She's got way more skill."
Granted, moms have been known to be a bit biased on such matters.
It's never wise to predict the future for a player with three years of college eligibility remaining, but odds are Katey isn't going to follow in Joy's footsteps with the national team. There is the NWSL, yet another attempt at the domestic professional league that seemed such a sure bet in the summer of 1999, but it may well be that Katey's life after soccer begins upon graduation.
That would be just fine. Soccer for her has never been about living up to someone else's perception of a name.
"All of my greatest friendships have come through soccer and my teammates," Katey said. "That's just something that is worth all the work you do and all the time you put in. It's like a big group of sisters."
The trips to Norway and Greece and so many other points around the globe were fun, but "sisters" is the part that sticks with her from a childhood around a team that changed sports history.
"They were really a big group of inspiring women who worked hard toward a goal, a common goal," Katey said. "They worked hard for their dreams, and that's kind of been ingrained into my head ever since I was little. I think that has shaped me into the person I am today."
Time moves on. There is still one active link to the 1999 World Cup in Christie Rampone, who remains a standout for the national team and Sky Blue FC in NWSL (and whose two young children live a life around the game quite similar to the one Katey knew). But it's only natural that Gallimore notices her players grow far more starry-eyed when former Washington star Hope Solo is around than when Joy makes an appearance. Solo is the best goalkeeper in the world, one of the stars of the current national team that has so often captured the nation's attention in recent years.
Solo is who this generation of players grew up watching, the player they want to be like. Joy is still a name many of them know, but more than anything, she is Katey's mom.
The spirit of 1999 is nevertheless still alive and well in women's soccer. At the University of Washington, it wears No. 4.
"Obviously, intellectually, you understand they grow up, they move on and they go to college and all of that," Parlow Cone said. "But it doesn't seem like that long ago she was just running around in the hotels with us. Time flies."