June 30, 2003

Chastain Is Reflection of Best Soccer Parents

June 30, 2003

By Ed Graney
San Diego Union Tribune

Little girls around the globe still scream her name and wear her jersey and pretend to take their own penalty kick against China, dreaming they too might one day slide across the Rose Bowl turf as yet another example that world-class athleticism knows no gender boundaries.

Little girls still adore Brandi Chastain for helping serve notice of the inestimable rise of women's sports in this country, for her power and grace and skill on a soccer field.

Imagine if all those shrieking voices knew Chastain the person as well.

How fortunate they would be.

Plato suggested that parents bequeath to their children not riches but the spirit of reverence. In this regard, Roger and Lark Chastain were all-stars.

There are those professional athletes who respect their sport, and then there is No. 6 for the San Jose CyberRays, a defender/forward/anywhere she wants to be player who competed admirably in her team's 2-1 loss to the Spirit last night at USD's Torero Stadium.

"Brandi's buoy has always been soccer," said U.S. women's national team coach April Heinrichs. "Life has been pretty good for her, pretty successful, pretty dreamy. But she has had her share of adversity. And in those times, she has always turned to the game."

In the past year, it has been about more than that, more than when she tore her ACL not once but twice, more than when she was cut from the national team, more than when she changed positions to extend her career at the highest level. It has been a lifeline, really.

You know Chastain, she of that memorable fifth PK in the 1999 Women's World Cup final and subsequent rip-off-her-shirt Kodak moment that graced the covers of Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated. You know the fists pumping toward the heavens, the ripped physique and the black sports bra.

Perhaps you don't know this:

Her parents were the typical soccer mom and dad before such terms became commonplace, complete with family cars filled with orange cones and orange slices. They held tailgates before games, cheered wildly during them and shook hands with anyone within reach afterward.

They could have been more financially secure, but found riches in arranging business schedules around shin guards and cleats. They gave Brandi and brother Chad one of life's greatest gifts as parents in just being involved.

Lark was the upbeat one. She died of an aneurysm in September of last year. She was 56.

Roger was the reserved one. He died in April of complications from a torn aorta. He was 57.

Seven months, and both were gone.

"There is anguish and longing for them, for being able to talk to them every day," Chastain says. "Everything reminds me of them. A smell, a song. But I also know how lucky I have been. I had them for 34 wonderful years, far longer than many get. They taught me so many things, to respect everyone, not to underestimate anyone, to strive for goals.

"I want to be more like my mom, to have an effect on others. My dad really couldn't express himself to her or me or anyone. But he loved her deeply. I could see it when he was alone after she was gone. It was just miserable for him. So now they're back together, and I'm sure they're up there organizing tailgate parties."

The Women's World Cup returns to the States this fall, to the place where Chastain helped produce arguably the most dramatic moment in the history of U.S. women's sports. But competition for the average fan will be far tougher this time, what with those small happenings known as the NFL, college football and major league baseball playoffs also taking the stage.

And whether the Women's United Soccer Association survives financially beyond this its third season remains unknown. Let's hope it does.

Whether you're fanatical about soccer or don't know the difference between a free kick and a throw-in, realize society needs the Brandi Chastains as its pro athletes. It is a sentiment that reaches beyond ability - "In three years of the (WUSA), she has been its most influential player," says Sockers coach Brian Quinn - and aims directly at integrity. She is the one you want your children to admire, to hang posters of, to mimic.

That would be Lark and Roger's daughter, the fulfillment of sports-playing girls everywhere, the one who three months ago stood beside her father's bed and told him he was a good guy and a great dad, that it was OK for him to go watch soccer games in a more comfortable place, that a day wouldn't pass without her thinking of him.

"I am no worse off for the emotions I have," Chastain says. "What happened wasn't unfair. They gave me too much for me to ever think that."

It is said that the '99 World Cup sent a powerful message about the valuable role sports plays in building character among young women.

How appropriate then, looking back, that Chastain took the final kick.