By Erica Satten
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer
On Saturday, Feb. 21, Vicky Brawley sat in front of a large group of new soccer coaches on the Rainbow Soccer fields, located on Cleland Road, and gave a coaching speech that she knew by heart. Brawley, who has directed Rainbow Soccer for 37 years, was kicking off yet another spring season.
Since Brawley helped create Rainbow Soccer in 1972, it has become a large recreational league for residents of Carrboro, Chapel Hill and surrounding areas. The league has more than 1,500 players every season. Nine of the program’s coaches and 133 of its players live in Carrboro.
Brawley’s emphasis on the recreational aspect of Rainbow Soccer makes the league different from other soccer programs. “Rainbow Soccer is not all about winning, like many other competitive leagues,” Brawley said. “It’s about making sure that everyone has a fun time.”
According to Brawley, the important part of Rainbow Soccer is that it gives participants an opportunity to spend time outdoors, meet friends and exercise. “Vicky calls herself the guardian of the Rainbow Soccer spirit,” said Alan Grier, who has helped Brawley manage the league since he moved to Chapel Hill in 2001. “She really is strong about maintaining the recreational style of the program and welcoming all kids no matter what.”
Although Brawley co-founded the program, she never played soccer and did not know the rules of the sport while growing up in Winston-Salem. Her former husband, Kip Ward, became passionate about soccer as a child. When Ward moved to London because of his father’s military position, his soccer skills helped him become friends with other teenagers.
When Brawley and Ward were students in the late 1960s, there were few places to play organized soccer outside of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1972, when Chapel Hill High School’s soccer team won the state championship for the first time, many of the players’ siblings became interested in practicing soccer before entering high school. Ward and Brawley created Rainbow Soccer to meet the increasing demand for soccer programs in Chapel Hill.
The league’s name was inspired by numerous factors, including Ward’s idea to give every team jerseys that were a different color of the rainbow. The league is also named after the rainbow trick, a difficult skill in soccer.
Although Brawley and Ward separated and he decided to move back to London in 1991, Brawley continued expanding Rainbow Soccer.
Brawley has seen the league change a lot in 37 years. “When Rainbow first started, we had parents and kids playing on the same teams,” Brawley said. There were only eight teams the first year. As the program became more popular, Brawley added more age groups.
Now the league has players of all ages and skill levels. Three-year-old players in the Peepers league are the youngest members of Rainbow Soccer. The league’s oldest participant, an 85-year-old player and coach, was involved in the program until he died of a brain tumor. There are numerous age groups between these extremes. Children with Down syndrome and cerebral palsy also play in the league. Despite the program’s recreational focus, more serious players can join teams that will help them transition to competitive soccer leagues.
Diversity is a key feature of the league. “Rainbow Soccer has had every mixture of style and personality as there is in life,” Brawley said.
Despite players’ differences, a common love for soccer and community involvement unifies the program. Coaches and referees are not paid. Some students from UNC-CH volunteer to be coaches because they have a passion for soccer and are seeking a community experience outside of the university.
Eve McTurk, a UNC-CH political science and history major from Scotland, will coach Rainbow Soccer for her third season this spring. She is now a junior, but she joined the program as a freshman. “I got involved because I thought it was a great way to teach kids soccer in an organized way,” McTurk said.
While many coaches, referees and staff members help Brawley manage Rainbow Soccer, she does much of the league’s work. During the fall and spring seasons, Brawley often spends more than 60 hours a week managing the league. Her many responsibilities include creating the league’s schedule, organizing teams, hiring staff, ordering T-shirts, planning the seasonal scholarship tournament and coming to the fields for many practices and games. “She’s involved in every aspect of the program,” Grier said.
Brawley was recently recognized for her long-term commitment to Rainbow Soccer at the Village Pride Awards Hometown Heroes Luncheon on Saturday, Feb. 15. The radio station News Talk 1360 WCHL gives this award to hometown heroes who have helped to make a difference in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community. She also received the Irene Briggaman Lifetime Achievement Award from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce in December of 2008.
When Brawley is not on the soccer field, she is working in the flower department of Whole Foods Market. “I love being involved with the people I work with in the flower department,” Brawley said. “It’s a pleasure to do both, but Rainbow is my baby. I’ve been with it for a very, very long time.”