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For Love of the Game

Mary Alexandre tries to make it to the gym a minimum of three times per week. Fitness is important to the 42-year-old married mother of two, who hardly looks her age.

Along with going to the gym, Alexandre enjoys playing soccer. The Alexandria native played on the Groveton High School team and took part in intramural soccer at Old Dominion. These days, Alexandre plays indoor soccer at the Fairfax Sportsplex in Springfield, which not only helps keep her in shape, but also adds an athletic element she craves.

"I love a little competition. Competition is good," Alexandre said. "The challenge is great."

Alexandre plays for the team "Lazy Fox" in a lower-division 6-on-6 co-ed league. The Sportsplex also offers 5-on-5 leagues, men’s leagues, women’s leagues and youth travel teams. On a muggy Friday night, Alexandre finished with a hat trick in a losing effort, scoring a pair of left-footed goals while adding a third on a right-footed flick. Despite the loss, the team was is good spirits after the contest, hanging around and drinking beer. While the desire to win is present, there isn’t a post-loss tension that can come with a competitive bunch.

"It’s a great way to stay in shape and still have some competitive fun," said Joe Alexandre, Mary’s husband and teammate. "Even between the men, during rec soccer, you just don’t go as far physically. You’re a little more careful on your tackles and your steals and your pushing with everyone. It’s more of a light-hearted soccer."

Joe Alexandre, 42, said he feels no awkwardness in terms of competing against women. Mary Alexandre, on the other hand, sees competing against men as a challenge.

"When you add guys into the mix, it adds another element," she said. "It changes the game only because you can play aggressive [with] body contact [against] another woman, but when you’ve got a guy on you that’s another 50 [to] 70 pounds [heavier] than you, it makes it a little more challenging."

What is she thinking when chasing down a ball in the corner against a male opponent?

"I’m expecting to get bumped," she said. "So you know what? You just tighten your core and you stand your ground and that’s the best thing you can do. If you go in there a little lackluster, you can expect to get nailed."

Rules for co-ed 6-on-6 state two women must be on the field at all times.

Mary Alexandre also said she enjoys the structured environment of a rec league.

"Pick-up soccer, you can end up with 20-on-20 or 25-on-25 and it is just madness trying to pass and play together," she said. "My son has a big group of friends and our parents and their parents play together. It’s pure chaos. This is way more organized, way more structured. You’ve got enough playing time [and] there’s enough space to create some strategy and some passes to create a play."

<b>Competitive Fire</b>

Tom Tudor stands in the batter’s box at Braddock Park’s field No. 5 in Clifton on a warm Monday evening. The game is slow pitch softball and the 64-year-old Fairfax resident isn’t interested in anything other than delivering a hit.

Facing a two-strike count, Tudor lets the pitcher’s offering fall to the ground. It’s not to his liking. But the home plate umpire has a different view, and rings Tudor up with a called third strike.

Tudor doesn’t think the pitch was legal, stating the pitcher was too far behind the rubber upon delivery. He argues his case with the umpire, but to no avail. Moments later, Tudor reminds the umpire of his frustration from the dugout.

After the game, won handily by Tudor’s Solid Gold squad, the second baseman is all smiles as he shares stories. But when he and his teammates are on the field, it’s all business. Tudor said Solid Gold has been one of the best teams in the Fairfax Adult Softball league for the last 10 years and they intend to keep it that way.

"Some of the teams don’t even want to play you because it is just total recreation for them," Tudor said. "I always play on something to better myself. [It feels like I’m] trying out every time. Your reputation is on the line. [If] you have a bad night: I struck out watching the ball tonight and I’ll hear about that for two months now. You now it’s coming."

People have several reasons for participating in recreational sports. Some approach events looking to have fun, while others see activities as a means to staying in shape. In Tudor’s case, it’s all about competing and testing his skills against others.

Tudor started playing rec softball in 1969 after returning from his second tour of duty in Vietnam. He had played basketball and baseball at James Madison High School in Vienna, and received a partial scholarship for basketball at Old Dominion University, but nothing became of it. After returning from Vietnam, rec sports gave him an outlet for his competitiveness and athletic talents.

"It really got into my blood," he said.

Tudor plays with several teams, and has competed for top-flight national teams from Florida and California. His Solid Gold squad, which includes W.T. Woodson head softball coach Bob Coleman, competes in Division I of the FAS senior (50 and over) league. Solid Gold is listed on the FAS website with a 7-0 record through July 27, having outscored its opponents 136-65.

"We built this team on chemistry and ability," Tudor said. "Chemistry is No. 1, to tell you the truth. There’s a lot of guys that wanted to play on this team and we’ve been the No. 1 team for 10 years."

"You’ll see in the late innings every once in a while [when] we’re down and we haven’t been playing well, somebody will come in and say, ‘Hey, let’s take it up a notch. Let’s go,’" said Tudor. "Everybody just comes together and they do the job."

While Tudor and his teammates are focused when it comes to softball, there’s also room for fun. On Sunday mornings, members of Solid Gold get together for batting practice, something that Tudor said he enjoys.

"I look forward to that more than anything else," he said. "You play a doubleheader out here, you might get eight swings, unless you take some batting practice. Out there, we’ll hit 100 balls on Sunday. We really do like the sport and try to be good at it."

FAS also offers men’s and co-ed divisions, among others.

<b>Meeting New People</b>

Along with providing a structured environment, 28-year-old Jack Fan said the Arlington Athletic & Social League provides a place to meet new people. Fan, the AASL’s sports and program coordinator, said with the Washington, D.C. metro area being such a transient location, rec sports provide a place to get connected with those who share common interests.

"We cater to a lot of different types of people," he said. "The primary demographic that we try to cater to are the young professionals who are looking for a place where their friends can always meet up. The second type of people this league is for is newcomers."

The AASL offers softball, volleyball, dodgeball, flag football, bowling, basketball, kickball inner tube water polo, cornhole and broomball. Fan said softball is the league’s most popular sport, with 80 teams competing. Kickball and volleyball also see a high turnout. Fan said the league offers competitive and social divisions, with some sports — including softball, kickball, dodgeball and bowling — often acting as precursors to another kind of fun.

"Sports is just kind of an excuse to come and hang out at a bar," Fan said.

Reston native Anne Nichols, 21, plays for a social league softball team despite having no experience. She joked that she plays catcher to avoid being involved in the action.

"It just seemed like a fun opportunity," said Nichols, a student at Wake Forest, "even though I’m really miserable and I’ve never played before."

Nichols’ boyfriend’s sister, Katie Flynn, started the team. Flynn, a 27-year-old Reston native, played softball at South Lakes High School and Seton Hall University. While Nichols is a newcomer along for some fun, the rest of the team has a different approach.

"As a team, we’re outrageously competitive to a point where it’s embarrassing and awkward for everybody," Flynn said. "We run up the score, which is improper. [There is] anger when somebody botches a play, even when we’re up by a considerable amount."

While Nichols and Flynn are on a team because they know the same people, Fan said some of the best friendships are made from teams composed of strangers. Fan, a Dallas native and Washington, D.C. resident, said he met his future roommates after being placed on a random kickball team.

"I always tell people to come check it out," he said. "If you have nothing else better to do, let us know, especially if it’s early in the season. We can help you out."