Rael Vodicka and Mavis Derflinger, two important cogs in the women’s soccer landscape, willingly stepped into the unknown one day in 1974.
Having been around the sport for multiple years, these two trailblazers made a decision that would positively impact future generations of women and girls in soccer for the foreseeable future.
They decided to begin the Washington Area Girls Soccer League (WAGSL) with a single age group that fall. Vodicka, who was the perfect choice to be the founding President, saw the promise that came with it and had a desire to pursue more. She had her mind set on having the league sponsor an all-girls competitive tournament, envisioning the very best of Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. competing against the best in the country and Canada. The WAGS Tournament came to fruition in 1975 after considerable time and planing.
WAGSL enjoyed tremendous success in its inaugural season, but Vodicka, who was so vital to the league, left to become the Virginia Metro DC State Associations Vice-President after the year. She was succeeded by Polly Phillips, and after a tumultuous two years that included Vodicka returning as President in 1976, Adele Dolansky was elected to hold office. For the next 20 years, Dolansky would help shape the future of soccer for all women and girls.
Vodicka passed away in 1980, but her contributions to the sport will be remembered forever. The aforementioned event was renamed the Rael Vodicka Memorial Tournament shortly after, and it now holds even more significance.
Since then, large-scale organizational changes have taken place to better the future of women and girls in soccer. In 2017, the Washington Area Girls Soccer League transitioned to Women and Girls in Soccer after 40 years. It's now a primarily volunteer-run 501 C (3) charitable organization with a focus on providing opportunities to sponsor, develop, or provide educational and character building programs through teaching and promoting an interest in the sport.
Even in challenging circumstances, WAGS has been able to provide unmatched opportunities for women and girls in soccer. It offered a safe playing environment for all girls participating in its annual tournament during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. With support from Elite Tournaments, WAGS hosted over 300 teams and 6,000 girls to their fields in Virginia.
WAGS was rewarded for its commitment to safety and success during a difficult time during last year's tournament. More than 500 teams came to play — becoming the third-ranked all-female tournament and fifth-ranked overall tournament in the country.
The Rael Vodicka Memorial Soccer Tournament, annually held in October, is WAGS' signature event, and in addition to money earned from the former league, is currently the only way funds are raised. Money is invested into six programs: a Soccer Hall of Fame Award, the United Soccer Coaches’ Women’s Award of Excellence, college scholarships, coach and referee certification courses, and worldwide outreach.
Along with first-class tournaments, WAGS also provides fully sponsored/refundable coaching and referee courses for women and girls. There have been 11 courses since March of 2018 — with two more currently scheduled to take place this year.
WAGS’ next course, a US Soccer All-Female National C License, will be held in April by the New Jersey Youth Soccer Association. Recently, 18 female referees received their certification at one of the courses.
Even with all of its success, WAGS is committed to doing more. Starting October 8-9, 2022, the ‘Legacy Division’ will be offered during the annual tournament for those who grew up playing the sport or are looking for a new chance to compete. It will have groups for 8v8, Over 40s, Over 50s, Over 60s, & Over 70s and be held at the RFK Fields in Washington D.C.
Women and Girls in Soccer has been an incredible success to follow from its early years in the ‘90s as Washington Area Girls Soccer to now. Shown by a constant dedication and ingenuity in creating new opportunities, there is plenty more to look forward to.