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Nothing is stronger than love. And no one loves like a mom. Her kids, her club, her fellow supporters. You just can’t beat a badass supporter mom.
In supporters groups all over America, there’s a generation of mothers pursuing their passion and love for soccer support. Their journeys start differently, but all inevitably lead to the same place, the supporters section with their children.
Forward Madison supporter April Kigeya went from soccer mom to supporter thanks to her oldest son, Demitrius, who currently plays soccer at Gonzaga University.
In 2019, Demetrius was selected to play for the Green Bay Voyaguers, a USL League Two club located more than two hours away from Madison, prompting Kigeya to seek out local opportunities to get involved with a club.
“Seeing as how he was going to be living in Green Bay and not in Madison, I was like, ‘Oh I still want to be able to support soccer because I’ve been a soccer mom pretty much all my life,’” she said.
Kigeya looked into Forward Madison, which had its inaugural season that year, and was immediately pulled in by the community of supporters.
“I was taken with how cool soccer culture was, because up until that time, I had been a soccer mom, but to a teenager, and a little kid, which is very different than European soccer,” she said. “So it was just really cool to get into that.”
That season, Kigeya and a friend formed Mingo Ladies, a supporters group dedicated to women-identifying supporters in Madison, and she also helped found Featherstone Flamingos, a supporters group that celebrates Black culture.
“My being a mother actually influenced my supporter culture, instead of the other way around, because that’s the only reason I was even engaged in soccer to begin with, because my oldest had been playing soccer for so long,” she said.
Kigeya has three other children, ages 18, 11 and 9, and includes them in her supporter activities, as a way to not only expose them to new experiences and opportunities, but to let them see their mom in action.
“For them to be able to see me leading something I think is kind of inspiring on their end, to be able to see that their mom is involved, they get to see firsthand what I’m doing.” she said.
“[Supporting] is a lot of fun, but it’s a lot of work. It’s nice to be able to lessen that burden, of like, ‘Oh I don’t want to go to this event because I’m going to leave my kids.’ My kids get to come with me and experience it with me. They’ve also met people that they wouldn’t have met otherwise. It’s really cool to be able to have a niche in something, and be exposed to people you wouldn’t have otherwise, and I’m able to do that for my kids too, because they’re playing with kids that they wouldn’t know otherwise.”
Soccer is practically in Katherine Reed’s DNA, so it’s no surprise that the president of Indy Eleven supporter group Brickyard Battalion has not only introduced her children to the sport, but raised kids who want to spread the gospel of supporter culture to others.
Reed grew up playing the game, a childhood of soccer tournaments instead of summer vacations. “That was what we planned our life around. I’ve measured my life in World Cups,” she said.
She moved to Indianapolis for college, stayed there to start a family, and soon her parents had relocated from Chicago to help with her kids as she went back to work. In doing so, her soccer-mad parents had to give up their Chicago Fire season tickets. “The thing that gave me the most guilt was them leaving behind their soccer community.”
But around that same time, rumors of a pro team in Indy began to circulate, and Reed and her family became heavily involved with the club, and Brickyard Battalion.
“We have three generations of Indy Eleven supporters in my family now, my dad and mom, myself, and now my children, who have grown up in the Mike [Michael A. Carroll Stadium],” she said.
At first, Reed’s ten-year-old son Elliot was hesitant to jump into the rowdy supporters section, preferring to sit in the family’s front row season ticket seats.
“Then we took him to an away day and the BYB kind of took him under their wing” she said. “It’s a smaller environment on an away day, so that was his introduction to people teaching him how to do figure eights with flags and things like that. At the very next home game, he was like, ‘Alright, I’m in.’”
Now Elliot keeps an eye out for kids like him who may be reluctant to take the plunge into the supporters section.
“So now they’ve got this little ambassador bringing all these little kiddos in, bringing them up to the front row of the section, looking for kids who are kind of standing on the side, who might be thinking, wow that looks fun, and he kind of marches over and goes and invites them over,” Reed said.
Reed knows that the matches are an important, and powerful way to connect with her kids. Her daughter, who is 8, isn’t as crazy about the supporters section, pays keen attention to the players on the field, even chiming in on their haircut choices. Reed is determined to ensure that the club stays around for as long as possible, even when her own kids’ playing days end.
“Second division soccer isn’t the most stable,” she said. “So if I can help make sure that they’re here to stay in our community, and they’re here for when Elliot stops playing, that we still have the team here, I’ll do my part.”
Gwen Moore grew up as a sports nut, and attended her first Detroit City match in 2016, when her son, Connor, was 3.
“He really enjoyed it,” she said. “In subsequent years, we kept going and he’d just start wandering over to the supporters section and we started to get involved with the chants, and just started meeting people, and it just started to snowball from there.”
Moore was immediately hooked on the energy and intensity of DCFC matches and soon became an active part of the Northern Guard Supporters.
“I love the energy of it all,” she said. “It’s just going there on match days, jumping up and down. There's a release there, and it’s just that feeling of, after the match, win or lose, that you gave everything you had for 90 minutes, just as much as the players did.”
Moore is a trans woman, so navigating motherhood has been a unique process, and the Northern Guard is a way for her to not only spend time with her son, but show him what an open, accepting community looks like.
“My son has been absolutely amazing about it,” she said. “NGS is definitely a ‘Come as you are’ organization. One of the principles of NGS is to take care of the community, and that’s one of the great things that I feel about NGS and introducing that culture to my son. To say, ‘Hey, it’s a good thing to be a part of your community where you live, it means something to give back to it as much as you can.”
Moore shares custody of Connor, who is now 8, and every opportunity she has to bring him to a match, she takes. Though he hasn’t attended a match since 2019, she bought him a season ticket for 2021, and they've’ talked about him participating in DCFC’s youth program once he’s old enough. The Detroit City women’s match next Saturday will be the first chance in a while for him to join the Northern Guard, and Moore hopes he feels the pull as strongly as she does.
“The last match before COVID he really started to get into it,” she said. “I”m kind of hoping that could be our thing moving forward.”
In 2014, with five kids and a husband deployed in Afghanistan, Jen Shea would take any chance she could get to spend a night out, including a Detroit City match. Little did she know she would find a second family that not only allowed her to flourish, but would provide opportunities for her kids to discover their passions.
Shea attended that first match at the urging of another member of the Northern Guard, and was immediately drawn to the atmosphere. A few weeks later, at her second match, Norther Guard members pulled up in three cars stuffed with items for Shea to send to her husband and his unit in Afghanistan.
“I couldn’t believe how supportive they were to someone that they didn’t even know,” Shea said. “I couldn’t believe it. I loved it.”
Shea bought season tickets for the family before her husband even returned home, and from 2015 on, Shea, and her kids, became more and more involved with the Northern Guard. Her 12-year-old daughter is now a drummer in the group.
“She’s now connected to all these other women and men that are part of the group,” Shea said. “They’ve encouraged her to try out for band, and now she’s in percussion for her 7th grade band, and then because of that, now she’s going to be in the high school band as an eighth grader. So, it’s awesome that I get to see her do that, but also she gets these connections with other adults that are positive influences in her life, and help her grow in ways that I would have never imagined.”
Shea is also able to pass along some of her maternal wisdom to younger members of the Northern Guard, both the young mothers and the younger supporters who need some extra doting.
“I have so many kids, and I’ve had them 23 years now, and a lot of them are just starting off with families. So, I’ve helped them install their car seats or answer questions about babies, or what do you do if five year olds are doing this or that. Some of us can become mentors for the younger ones, which is really kind of fun,” she said. “A lot of the moms also run around all day on game day, making sure that everyone has water, or if anyone’s not feeling well that they’re doing ok. A lot of the younger male supporters will call us ‘Mama This’ or ‘Mama That’ because they feel that connection to us, of, ‘We all might be going crazy during the game, but we have people that are still looking out for us.’”
Shea’s oldest daughter graduated college earlier this week, and the pride in her voice is palpable.
“When you see them grow and just shoot for what they want to do and be able to achieve that, it’s the best thing, because you feel like you did okay.”
San Jose Earthquakes supporter Maryela Ramirez wasted no time in taking her four-month-old daughter to her first match this season. After feeling her kick in her belly when Ramirez played a recording from a drumming practice of Epicentro 74, the supporters group that Ramirez is involved in, she knew she had to take advantage of the first opportunity.
“Just to see the excitement in her eyes, she was so intrigued by everything,” Ramirez said. “When I took her to the first game, I thought that she was going to get scared with the drums, but she was just staring at them and was really intrigued by the music and really into it.”
Through Epicentro 74, Ramirez and her husband, along with the rest of the group’s leadership, have aimed to create an inclusive, family friendly supporter culture, a mission that has even deeper meaning now.
“Being a new mom has definitely made that even more important to me, because now I’m experiencing it for my own child,” she said. “I want my child to have the same passions that we do, to really enjoy the great sport of soccer. This is an opportunity to get our kids involved in an activity and you're instilling in your kids good morals and how to be good human beings. So there’s a lot more to me than just supporting our team.”
Ramirez and her fellow Epicentro 74 supporters hope to build a group with a lasting legacy that can be carried on by future generations.
“One of our other members said recently that everything that we’re doing, it’s not about us, it’s for our next generation,” she said. “I don’t want my baby to grow up so fast, but I’m definitely looking forward to being able to step back and let the little ones proceed with supporting our team.”
As one of the only female leaders of Epicentro, Ramirez is still dealing with breaking down gender barriers within supporter culture, an important lesson she plans to pass on to her daughter.
“I'm always telling the husbands, ‘Bring your girlfriends, bring your wives, bring your kids.’ It doesn't have to be a male dominated activity,” she said. “This can be family friendly. Your wives can enjoy it just as much as you, it's just giving them the opportunity to. For me, it's important to show my daughter that, she can do anything, whatever she puts her mind to. She can be a leader and lead by example.”
These moms are doing what is in their DNA to do: give their children opportunities to find what they love, where they belong, and above all, support them.