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Rec Sports Provide Competition, Fitness, Friendship

Sweat has saturated Jack Lohrer’s gray cotton T-shirt and is threatening to take over his blue cotton shorts. The 46-year-old Alexandria resident looks the part of a man who is at the tail end of a hard day’s work. But with the second half winding down in his recreational summer league basketball game at George Washington Middle School, it would require more than a little fatigue and a whole lot of moisture to get Lohrer to stop hustling.

With his team — the Troglodytes — trailing, Lohrer does the little things. On offense, he finds open spots on the floor and positions himself for a quality shot. On defense, he tries to take charges — a tactic not commonly seen outside of highly competitive leagues. Early in the game, Lohrer fell to the ground after absorbing contact from an opponent and was rewarded by the official with an offensive foul call. But when Lohrer tried the move again, he instead was whistled for a block. The Troglodytes, much the same, came up short against the GT Ballers.

There are several reasons behind people participating in recreational sports. Some approach events looking to have fun, while others see activities as a means to staying in shape. In Lohrer’s case, it’s mixing the two with competition.

"It’s really fun," the Long Island native said of playing rec basketball. "You don’t get any dumber. You just get smarter and smarter and smarter. You learn something new every time you play."

Lohrer played Division III basketball at Amherst College in Massachusetts. While hustling is accepted in basketball, Lohrer said taking charges is frowned upon by today’s youth. But with no Troglodyte younger than 40, those are the types of plays that help the team compete.

"Hustling is one thing, taking charges is really kind of disfavored," Lohrer said. "When I grew up playing, it was a very heady thing to do, an appreciated thing. Now it’s almost like taking a dive in soccer. It’s a generational thing. This generation, it’s almost controversial.

"The refs are old, too, so they remember back in the day. They gave me one [charge] and they didn’t give me the other."

ANOTHER ELEMENT of Lohrer’s "old school" mentality is to defend the opposing team’s best player. In this case it was 30-year-old Laurel, Md., resident Curtis McNeil, who grew up in Alexandria and played basketball at GW and St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes. McNeil, who also played at Gettysburg College, said while he can still shoot, he’s had to change his game as he’s gotten older.

"I’ve always been a shooter, so I can still shoot," McNeil said. "As long as I’m not tired, then I can pretty much get my shot off. But as far as the speed, definitely the speed isn’t still there.

"I don’t waste energy. I’m very conservative with my energy. Just being older and smarter, you pick and choose your spots."

The City of Alexandria also offers a competitive summer basketball league. Co-ed sports like soccer and volleyball are also offered at different times of the year.

Scott Troxell, a 46-year-old Alexandria resident, organized the Troglodytes and has been playing in the city league for five years. He said he loves the game and the league provides an opportunity to stay in shape and spend time with friends.

"All the wives have their book clubs and that stuff," Troxell said, "we’ve got our basketball."

<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."

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 Web site 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 awhile [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.’" 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 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>Staying in Shape — With a Bonus</b>

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.

But on a recent Friday night in Springfield, Alexandre opted for another workout venue. Despite air so hot one struggled to stay dry while stationary, the Alexandria native booted soccer balls through the stuffiness inside the Fairfax Sportsplex to the tune of three goals. During her school days, Alexandre played soccer for Groveton High and took part in intramural soccer at Old Dominion. These days, Alexandre plays indoor soccer at the Sportsplex, 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 an uber-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>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."