by Anu Teodorescu | photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Women’s Football Club
Any little girl who spent her childhood wrestling in and out of shin guards, practicing soccer drills after school, or shaking out the nerves before kick-off at a Saturday morning game probably also dreamed of making it big—of scoring the game-winning shot in a state championship, of blocking the final PK in a World Cup shoot-off, or of being the next Mia Hamm.
And while those dreams may never materialize, for those who are dedicated, that longing never quite goes away—even if the chances of playing pro do.
A place where young female soccer players can stay involved in the game and represent the city of Grand Rapids, the GRFC Women’s team is one of the only opportunities for women to play post-college. Created in 2017 with the help of Lewis Robinson, who is the current head coach of the men’s team, the women’s team was National Champions in the UWS league in 2017 and National Semi-finalists in 2018.
When asked what prompted the decision to create the women’s team, Assistant Coach Kellie McPherson said that it had much to do with the mounting cultural movement to empower women. She also cited the unusually high level of talent in the Grand Rapids area and the desire of coaches like Robinson to address an untapped player pool and provide female players with opportunities to continue developing and maintaining their talent.
“We [wanted to] give them a platform to train, give them a platform to play for their home crowd,” McPherson said. “A lot of times college players will just go home for the summer and not play at all. But this is an organized opportunity with set practices; they get to train with other top players.”
The season starts in the first week of May and goes through the end of July, attracting 300-500 fans per game.
Coached by James Gilpin, the team consists of 26 rostered girls ranging from 18-25. While 14 of the 26 are D1 players, two are NAIA, and nine are D2, many of the girls grew up in or around Grand Rapids and played soccer together throughout their elementary, high school and collegiate careers.
“I love the competitive atmosphere—they want to win, they want to get better,” captain Marti Corby said. “It’s just a great group of girls, a great coaching staff.”
Before joining GRFC as a midfielder for its freshman season in 2017, Corby played on club teams like GRASA, Alliance, and Midwest United—in addition to playing for Forest Hills Central and Grand Valley. And, unsurprisingly, she was one of those little girls who dreamed of playing soccer professionally.
“Looking up to Mia Hamm—who is just an incredible player—you just want to be that person, you know?”
A mere four years old when she started playing soccer, Corby now works as the assistant coach at Adrian College while wearing number 13 for the Girls in Blue.
“My life is soccer, but it’s fun to be the one playing every once in a while,” she said.
While becoming the next Mia Hamm is a tall order, the GRFC women’s team is one of few opportunities for players like Corby to keep their childhood dreams alive. Because of this team, these girls will continue to wrestle in and out of shin guards, practice drills and shake out the nerves before their next game.
For a game schedule, visit grandrapidsfc.com.