Leveling the playing field

| By Jason Birkelbach

Marisa Rivera knew from the beginning that she would not be able to play women’s soccer at her new school. That would not stop her from playing the game she loves.

Girl Soccer

Rivera is in her freshman year at Westchester Community College. She plays soccer on the school team; however, the school’s women’s soccer team no longer exists. So, before the fall semester began, she went out and did the next best thing.

She joined the men’s team. Rivera went to Head soccer Coach John Kakavas.

 “One day I told him, ‘I love soccer. I’d like to practice with the boys,’” Rivera said.

Following their initial meeting, Coach Kakavas discussed with Rivera what her role on the team would be. At first, Rivera was to be the team’s manager. She practiced and trained with the team in addition to keeping the books.

“She was good with that,” Coach Kakavas said, “but then, when I saw her running some of the drills, and also got into the scrimmage, I saw that she was skillful enough to play.”

Rivera soon became an official team member. The players had little trouble adjusting to a woman being on the team.

“It was different defiantly,” team captain Juan Sanchez said, “But I told the guys to respect her, and that was it.”

To them, Rivera is just another player. The guys treat her the same as every other person on the field.

Rivera was active for the Vikings 2-0 win over Globe Institute of technology, but did not see playing time. The Vikings will play again on Thursday September 18 at Valhalla High School against Queensborough Community College.

The last time WCC’s women’s team played was in 2011. The program dissolved that season as student interest all but disappeared. That does not mean women cannot play soccer at WCC.

According to Title IX of the education amendments of 1972, which protects students from exclusion from any federally funded program based on gender, women athletes like Rivera, whose school does not offer a sport specific to her gender, are allowed to participate on men’s teams.

Therefore, Rivera went through nothing more than what every student, male or female, has to go through to join a school athletic team.

“She’s treated just as any other athlete.” WCC Athletic Director Larry Massaroni said, “She had to bring in the forms just like anyone else. She had to have her physical. She had to take 12 credits, which every athlete has to take.”

According to Coach Kakavas, Rivera has brought to the team her enthusiasm and drive. In practice, she is constantly pushing herself as well as her teammates to work harder and not give up. Rivera plays left wing off of the bench. Being a lefty, Rivera has an advantage at her position.

But, according to Rivera, her biggest strengths on the field are her soccer smarts.

“Understanding the plays and understanding, when I have the ball, where toput the ball. I just have a lot of knowledge about soccer.”

Rivera began accumulating that knowledge, and the skill to go along with it, at the age of four. Her step-father, a former WCC soccer player, had her playing at a young age.

As she grew older, Rivera played on multiple recreation teams and eventually, played varsity soccer at White Plains High School. At the outset of her high school career, Rivera planned to play at either a division one, or division two school.

“I want to major in nursing,” Rivera said, “so I decided to get all my pre-
requisites done here where it’d be a lot cheaper.”

Rivera still plans on attending, and play soccer at, a Division I or Division II school. She will be going in with a different experience than most girls.

“I get to learn a lot.” Rivera said about playing with the men’s team, “…how to play faster. I get to learn how to think quicker. My fitness level rises. I get thicker skin. All around as a player I just get better.”