You may be used to seeing children practicing soccer in Verona, but they’re not the only ones scoring goals. Two adult women’s soccer teams, Team Sloth and Black Mambas, are also on the field for some fun recreational activity. While the origin stories and strategies of the two teams differ, they share a similar mission: To show that anyone of any skill level or age can enjoy soccer, even millennial mothers.
Team Sloth began in 2017, when Verona resident Corisa Walker missed her soccer days from high school. She posted on Facebook to see if anyone had an interest in playing soccer in a recreational league, and if there were any leagues nearby at all. She was directed to the Women Over 35 soccer league in West Orange, which has been around since the early 2000s, and got some response from potential players: Many of the women had little experience; some had never even kicked a soccer ball.
‘Just do less’
“I think ‘Team Sloth’ started as a joke,” says Walker, who is the librarian at both F.N. Brown and Brookdale Avenue elementary schools. “In one of the threads on Facebook, it was apparent that many who wanted to play had little to no experience playing soccer. ‘Just do less’ became our motto after referring to ourselves as sloths online. While the team name rang true at first with many losses, over the years, we’ve come together as a strong team each season and have even won a few games.”
The West Orange league is intended for young women like Walker and the members of Team Sloth—women aged 35 and older, experienced or not in soccer, who want to have fun, get active, and compete. The season runs from September to June and features seven teams from Verona and surrounding towns.
After gathering a roster of 14 women, Team Sloth came together and began weekly games on Wednesday evenings at The Soccer Palace in West Orange. Over the years, the team has faced challenges, such as players leaving, varying skill levels and, of course, the pandemic, which postponed games from March 2020 to September 2021. Members stayed in touch virtually and kept active on their own time. As a result, the team’s laid-back vibe is thriving and it currently has a roster of 10 players who still greatly enjoy the sport.
“Over the years, the one constant of playing soccer on Team Sloth is having fun,” Walker says. “The league is great in the sense that there are no practices, no standings or championship, but we do keep score during our weekly games, so recently winning some games after a halt during the pandemic is satisfying. Anyone is welcome to contact us via Instagram if they are interested in joining.”
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Black Mambas Soccer was formed last September by several Verona mothers who had gotten to know the West Orange soccer league from friends and social media.
“A few in our group had discussed the possibility of forming our own team but the timing was never right,” says Casey McCartney. “Then the pandemic happened and everything paused. Being able to finally get a group together has been an accomplishment in and of itself, and a fun one, if nothing else!”
Unlike Team Sloth, many of the Black Mambas have some soccer experience from high school or college. Sharing a passion for competition in sports, the team chose its name to reflect its fierce play—and to match the color of its jerseys, as black was the only color available for a new team.
The Black Mambas are driven by fitness: While they compete only on Wednesday evenings during the soccer season, they train on their own during the week. Some team members are active runners and cyclists, and practice strength training.
“What we all share is a competitive spirit and desire to improve and be better than the week before which is what you see on the field when we play,” says Shannon Curtin. “Initially, some of us were worried if our bodies would remember how to play soccer after a 15- to 20-plus-year hiatus. But it was like riding a bike, just with many more sore muscles. The training pays off.”
Currently, Black Mambas is composed of 11 women who all have children attending Forest Avenue Elementary School. It has a full roster now, but players on the adult teams, like the kids’ teams, can change. Team Sloth recruited a second goalie, Amanda Bullock, after having an empty spot on its roster.
Family, work—and soccer
Something that Team Sloth and Black Mambas share is the ability to strike a balance between sports, parenting, and employment. Members of both teams say that the fun outlet that soccer provides lets them unwind each week and grow as athletes.
“One of the things we love is the team camaraderie,” says Curtin. “We have become a family supporting one another both on and off the field. One of our kids, who we now refer to as ‘Mini Mambas’ said, ‘When I’m 38, can I play soccer, too?’ We love inspiring our kids to try new things and it’s also important that we do things for ourselves as moms. We’re a great example of women taking on new hobbies, sports and activities no matter what your age and ability level.”