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A Senior Women's Soccer League

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The U.S. women will play England in the semi-final round of the World Cup on Tuesday. And so we thought we'd bring you the story of some other tough and inspirational female soccer players. Gloria Hillard reports from San Diego, Calif., at the matchup between the blues and the whites.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: OK, ladies (clapping). Blues over there. Whites over here.

GLORIA HILLARD, BYLINE: In a purple headscarf and wearing for the blue team, Tina Zucker is getting in some last-minute dribbling practice.

TINA ZUCKER: Well, the thing about playing soccer and being 70 is I don't feel 70.

HILLARD: Although she admits when she's out and about and wearing her soccer uniform, people will often ask...

ZUCKER: Do you play soccer or do you coach soccer or do you go to see your grandchildren? I'm like, I play. And that's the thing that all of us go through.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Come on, Ladies. Keep coming. Keep coming. Oh, my God.

HILLARD: Most of these women play for the Prime of Life Women's Soccer League in San Diego. They are not only playing a game they love. They are sharing the dreams of a younger generation, something they couldn't have imagined as young girls - a U.S. Women's National Soccer Team. Seventy-two-year-old Joan Captain says in the 1950s and '60s and before Title IX, girls were often discouraged from playing sports.

JOAN CAPTAIN: When I grew up, you had to be a, quote, quote, "a lady."

HILLARD: She's changing out her jersey so there will be an equal number of good players on each team and doing pushups.

CAPTAIN: I usually play forward or I usually play defense. I had people say, oh, that's so dangerous, you know, you should take it easy. And I say, well, you see that couch over there? The couch will kill you (laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Nice job, Trish, even if you are on the other team.

HILLARD: Brandi Mitchell of San Diego Soccer Women says these women are a demographic that should be recognized.

BRANDI MITCHELL: They've gone against, culturally, what we expect of women in those age groups not only as athletes but specifically with a sport that you just don't see being offered to women of older ages in general.

HILLARD: At 79, Danielle Madsen has been playing soccer for 40 years - maybe not as hard and tough as two decades ago.

DANIELLE MADSEN: On our two teams, they're very nice. And they don't kill you (laughter). So playing against some of the other teams - yeah, you can get hurt.

HILLARD: She's referring to those young players in their 50s. There's only one exception in senior women's soccer - no slide tackling. And that's just fine with Karen Tenney. She says she doesn't notice how many times she hits the grass during the game. She just counts her bruises in the morning.

KAREN TENNEY: I've broken my wrist and my thumb, both from friendly fire. I still played with it. I put a cast on, I put bubble wrap on it so I could still play.

HILLARD: From the sidelines, cheering the women on are a few retired former team members along with Lucy, a golden retriever and mascot for both teams. Patty Storm says at this time in their life, the game is more about camaraderie than competition.

PATTY STORM: It's just pulling together and supporting each other and getting some wonderful exercise.

HILLARD: The players do admit when it's tournament time, it's game on. In this game, well, there was some debate as to whether the score was 1-0 or tied. Tina Zucker just shrugs.

ZUCKER: Honestly, I have no idea. I just know that I ran after the ball. Sometimes, I got it. Sometimes, I didn't. And that's the name of the game.

HILLARD: A game she plays three times a week.

For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOLIMINE AND BURKI'S "WHEN YOU'RE SMILING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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