By Al Mattei

BELTSVILLE, Md. -- As another Maryland Pride practice gets underway at a smallish field hard by a thick forest just outside Washington, D.C., those present from the W-League team's roster split off into two groups, distinguishable by florescent orange practice vests.

It is not difficult to see who works well together, especially when it comes to the veteran core of the Maryland team, which includes Jenny McMahon, Colette Cunningham, Nancy Rohrman, and Peggy McCarthy, who will often play on the same side in practice.

The four have been part and parcel of the Maryland Pride's championship history of the 1990s, as well as part of a U.S. Open Cup-winning side, Soccer Academy United. But their participation together goes far beyond a decade-long friendship.

For several years, the four have been the core of a competitive minor-league women's soccer team while raising children. The quartet has to represent some sort of record for motherhood representation in women's team sports; active mothers in women's professional sports have been somewhat rare, even as the women's sports revolution has matured.

Now, much has been made about the "Soccer Moms" at the 1999 U.S. Women's World Cup and beyond.. Team USA’s Joy Fawcett and Carla Overbeck were the first to strike the balance between family and responsibilities to the national team. Other members of the women's national team pool such as Danielle Fotopolous, Christie Rampone, Tina Frimpong, and Kate Markgraf have played after giving birth.

Cunningham, who has national-team caps on her playing resume, is a pioneer of sorts when it comes to soccer motherhood -- even more than the more celebrated Overbeck and Fawcett. She played professional soccer in Italy while raising her son Kevin, born in 1996.

“That was tough,” she admits. “He came with me everywhere I played, so there was the whole breastfeeding-at-halftime thing going on: going to play, coming out, breastfeeding. Now that he’s older, he comes to the game and plays around.”

While the Pride had been keen to help accommodate players' schedules, there was a lot of assistance from family members.

“What helps is that I have a very supportive husband who actually plays soccer,” says McCarthy, whose son was born in 2000. “He understands how important is us for me to play.”

“It was pretty challenging for me because my husband was away for a month,” says McMahon, whose children were born in 1997 and 1999. “That was the toughest part, because I rely on him to help out with the kids. You have to enjoy it to make it worth the struggle.”

For Rohrman, however, the term "soccer mom" hit home in 2001 during a Pride road trip to New Jersey for a three-game weekend road trip. She brought her two children, born in 1998 and 2000, on the hours-long van ride up Interstate 95. The children quickly became favorites amongst players, other traveling family members, and even fans of opposing teams.

“We have a little bond going,” Cunningham says. “We’re all here to help out each other.”

“Weekends can be pretty challenging,” Rohrman says. “But the Pride has been flexible with us, and have helped out with babysitting.”

The four have remained together through a W-League title, three U.S. Amateur Open Cups, and six children.

“Some of the younger players get an awakening as how different life is with kids,” Rohrman said. “And they appreciate what the four of us do.”

The 2001 season saw the Pride assemble a perfect W-League regular-season campaign, but lost in the W-League Division 1 semifinals. It would prove to be the group's last season together. Eventually, the Pride franchise would leave the W-League in 2003 to play in the WPSL.