Boston Breakers captain Leslie Osborne remembers the first time she met her soccer role models, two-time World Cup winners Kristine Lilly (now a Breakers assistant coach) and Julie Foudy. They came to her hometown of Milwaukee while she was in high school, and she got the opportunity to chat with them.
A few years later, she found herself training alongside them on the US Woman’s National Team ahead of the 2004 Olympics. Osborne, who would later play in the 2007 World Cup, did not make that Olympics team, but she cherished the opportunity to play alongside her idols.
“I was so in awe of them,” she said. “It was a pretty special thing that I got to play with them.”
With the Breakers’ home games shifting to the Dilboy Memorial Stadium for the 2012 season, Osborne and her team of professionals figure to play a similar role for young female athletes in Somerville. And, she said, they look forward to that opportunity.
“We’re strong, confident women with goals who have worked really hard to meet them,” she said.
But beyond being role models, the Breakers and their presence in Somerville could help to establish the city as a top spot for women’s sports in New England.
When the Breakers open at the Dilboy this spring, they’ll join the Woman’s Football Alliance’s Boston Militia as the second professional woman’s team to call the stadium home. The Militia, who reign as defending WFA champions, has played in Somerville for five seasons.
Militia general manager Frank Ferrelli said woman’s sports have been trending towards increased popularity in the more than thirty years he’s been involved in football administration, previously with youth programs that saw increasing female participation as time drew on.
“It was [previously] generally tough for girls to find opportunities past the collegiate level,” he said. “Women’s sports have grown tremendously in the last ten years.”
Somerville High School girls soccer players say those increased opportunities – and their local visibility – figure to get more girls out on the field.
“It could get more girls to come to the program,” said sophomore defender Kellie Haggerty, who also plays for the school’s ice hockey team. “It’s really inspiring. They’re globally recognized as professional athletes.”
SHS is already peppered with examples of a strong female sports culture.
Sixth-year athletic director Nicole Viele is the first female to hold the position in the school’s
history. In the last year, the ice hockey, volleyball, and basketball teams have all made the playoffs, and that doesn’t count track and cross-country’s individual athletes. And the school’s most recognizable athlete is arguably senior track star Nicole Genard, for whom Division 1 college programs are vying.
“I’ve conscientiously wanted equitable sports for boys and girls,” said Viele. “I try to make sure what I do for one gender, I do for the other, whether it’s equipment, night games, uniforms.”
The Militia has worked with the high school’s weight training program in the past, Viele said, and expects that the school will form programs with the Breakers in the future. Breakers general manager Lee Billiard suggested that the team would host a preseason clinic for the girls’ soccer team, and said the Breakers’ players will also give tutelage to Somerville Youth Soccer League.
And though they have not yet touched base, the Breakers and Militia both see ways their teams could benefit off the other’s presence, they say.
“If our signs are up on the stadium and their signs are up too, it should benefit both of us,” said Ferrelli.
“There’s definitely an option to cross-market,” said Billiard.
Billiard added that it may behoove both organizations to develop a ticket package to bring fans to the Dilboy for both football and soccer games. And that would provide double the inspiration for Somerville’s young female athletes.
Haggerty, the SHS soccer player, said appreciation for women’s sports will continue to grow in Somerville with the Breakers in town, and teammate Rachael Berry, a sophomore midfielder and forward, agreed.
“It’s just going to keep getting better,” Berry said. “It will be more acknowledged and get better support.”