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Action County

DEVON O'NEIL

When Mia Hamm has to break your records to establish her own identity, you’re probably not short on talent.Meet Amy Machin-Ward, the creator and executive director of the High Country Soccer Association, and one of the founding mothers of the University of North Carolina women’s soccer dynasty.It’s hard to decide where to start with Machin-Ward. She’s accomplished more than her share in the sport of soccer, specifically when it comes to breaking down barriers. Part of the first class of women to receive NCAA soccer scholarships, she was recruited by legendary Tar Heels coach Anson Dorrance to, as she put it, “win national championships,” nothing else. She and the rest of her teammates wasted little time. By the time Machin-Ward graduated, in UNC’s class of 1985, she’d won four NCAA titles (the first of the school’s 18), been named a first- or second-team all-America each of those four years, and was the national player of the year as a sophomore. Staggering achievements, but she wasn’t done making history.After coaching club and high school boys soccer for a number of years in Denver, Machin-Ward took a college assistant’s job with the women’s team at Oregon State. She hated it, mainly because she was coaching girls, not boys. It lasted just one season.

“I just don’t have the right personality for coaching girls,” she said. “I’m very impatient with some of the stereotypical behaviors – the cattiness, the clicquiness. Guys go out and compete and leave it on the field, then they’ll go out and have a beer together.”Through an ex-player’s parents, Machin-Ward was given an interview for the Regis University men’s head coaching position. When she got the job, she became the first woman ever to be the head coach of an NCAA men’s soccer program.During her 10 years in Denver at the helm of Division II Regis, Machin-Ward fought to beat the stereotype that girls can’t coach boys, and achieved plenty of success in doing so. Her teams were nationally ranked eight of the 10 years, and she gradually made others reverse their stance on women coaching men.She made the move to the mountains from the city a few years back with husband Joe and son Sam, 4, and started High Country Soccer in 2002. This fall the nonprofit has more than 900 participants, from tiny “little kickers” to the coed adult league. Many are on scholarship, too; last year the organization awarded more than $19,000 in entries to afford all players the opportunity to play.

So what was it like to start the UNC women’s soccer dynasty?”We were brought in from all over the country, there were 11 of us that got scholarships that year. It was revolutionary almost. From the day I met Anson, his plan was to win national championships. Anything less than being the best was not enough. And it’s hard not to have fun when you’re the best.”You said it was tough early on coaching the men’s team at Regis. How? Whatsorts of things did you face?”There was a lot of reluctance on the part of a lot of teams to schedule us. But once we started being successful they had to play us to get where they wanted to go- the national tournament. That was always interesting to me: The guys that wouldn’t even shake my hand in year one would kiss my (butt)in year five to get a game with us.”

Did your players hear it too?”Yeah, other teams would say comments like, ‘What a wuss, how could you play for a girl?’ But the quickest way to shut them up was to kick their butt. My favorite line when people made negative comments was, ‘Well, look at the scoreboard. There you go!'”You were in the same class as Michael Jordan at UNC, and one of your bestfriends dated him. Any favorite stories?”I just remember that he was very humble and very different in college than the person you see now. He was actually a very sweet guy. After he got drafted he came back for a couple classes to complete his degree, that’s when he broke up with (my friend). You bet I gave him a few cents of my mind when I saw him.”- Devon O’Neil


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