World Cup Veteran Honored by Alma Mater

Former Monmouth Hawk and U.S. soccer legend Christie Rampone returned to the University to celebrate her recent World Cup victory and serve as honorary captain during the women’s soccer game against Seton Hall on Monday, Sept. 7.

A crowd of 1,577 gathered on Hesse Field to welcome back the captain of the U.S. Women’s National Team and support the Hawks. Rampone recorded a broadcast segment for ESPN3 before the game and greeted fans at halftime, signing autographs and taking pictures with everyone that eagerly lined up along the Great Lawn.

For the Monmouth women’s soccer team, it was a privilege to share the field with such a distinguished alumni. “It was a great experience to honor Monmouth’s all-time great and represent the growth of the program,” said Kristen Brett, a senior defender. “She is a great role model for collegiate athletes who have dreams and aspirations of becoming the best they can be.”

Julie Spracklin, a junior defender, added that sharing the field with Rampone was a moment that she will always cherish. “It was an honor to stand next to Captain America as she handed over the game ball, making it seem as if we were getting ready to go on to the field together as captains,” Spracklin said.

Danielle Axelrod, a senior midfielder, expressed what it meant for the team to welcome back the former Hawk. 

“To have a World Champion come back to New Jersey and support our team was an amazing feeling. We were pumped to be able to play and represent the same school [Rampone] once did before her incredible journey as a national team member began,” Axelrod said. 

During her time as a Hawk, Rampone was a dual-sport athlete majoring in special education. She was a standout on the soccer field, setting the NEC single-season record of 29 goals, 17 assists, and 75 total points that still holds today. Rampone left Monmouth with a career total of 79 goals and 54 assists, making her the University’s all-time leading scorer and earning her a spot in the Monmouth University Athletics Hall of Fame and the NEC Hall of Fame.

As she packed away her cleats and shifted focus to basketball for the rest of her senior year, Rampone was drawn back to soccer when she received a fax inviting her to try out for the national team in 1997. Since then, Rampone has had one of the most iconic and successful careers in U.S. soccer history. Making 309 appearances with the national team (currently the second most all time), Rampone has served as captain since 2008, and is the only player on the current roster with two World Cup victories. This summer, she became the oldest player to participate in a World Cup tournament at 40-years-old.

Marilyn McNeil, Vice President and Director of Athletics, believes that Rampone is a wonderful role model for Monmouth students. “She handles each of her roles with grace and a quiet confidence. I think everyone is amazed at her ability to transcend all of our hopes and dreams for young women and sportswomen of the world. She is genuine and sincere, and I think, beyond her fabulous athletics abilities, it is those human qualities that draw her fans and makes her such a beloved heroine,” McNeil said.

Reflecting on her time at the University, Rampone cites Monmouth as a contributing factor to her personal and professional development. “At the time I was in college I wasn’t the most confident and outgoing person, but I developed as I went [here] and my coaching staff gave me a tremendous amount of confidence to become the player that I am,” Rampone told The Outlook. “Going from a forward to defense and playing basketball made me well-rounded when I went to the national team to excel and push to be someone better and play at the level that I’m playing at now.”

Rampone’s unparalleled career has left an impact not only on Monmouth and the national team, but has transcended into the women’s game as a whole. Having played in all three women’s professional leagues starting in 2001 (Women’s United Soccer Association, Women’s Professional Soccer, and now the National Women’s Soccer League), Rampone is a founding member and captain of New Jersey’s club team, Sky Blue FC. Serving as both a starting player and interim head coach during the team’s inaugural 2009 season, she led Sky Blue to a championship title and was named WPS Sportswoman of the Year—all while being three months pregnant with her second child.

“[Rampone] has done so much for soccer [at Monmouth], across the nation, and in the world,” McNeil said. “I hope the World Cup fans of 2015 will continue to help the sport grow, and I hope Christie will still have a powerful role in expanding opportunities for girls and women in this fabulous sport.”

Since the national team’s victory on July 5, interest in women’s soccer has increased drastically across the country. The final match against Japan was viewed by 25.4 million people, making it the most-watched soccer game in U.S. history and shattering the sport’s previous record of 18.7 million viewers of a men’s World Cup match last summer. According to FIFA, 1,353,506 total spectators attended matches throughout the tournament, and over nine billion tweets were generated during the month-long competition.

The fervor of support for the soccer stars followed the women home and helped to kick off an unprecedented celebration. The team was greeted by a fan rally in L.A., followed shortly there after by a phone call from President Obama and a ticker tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes in New York City, the first of its kind to ever be dedicated to a women’s sports team.

“This World Cup win felt different with social media and the coverage of FOX,” Rampone said of her experience. “[…]You could tell from the warm welcome when we came home that hopefully there will be an elevation in young female athletes in sports that want to excel at a higher level.”

While the national team has captured the attention of the mainstream media (making appearances on Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, and even joining Taylor Swift on stage), they have also shed light on a pressing cultural issue. It was reported that the women were paid $2 million for their World Cup win, which was four times less than the $8 million that the men’s national team received for being eliminated in the first round of play last summer. The staggering statistic has incited calls for reform in compensation of women’s sports nationwide. 

Further, the win has helped to shine a spotlight on the NWSL, which has financially collapsed twice in the past, as an organization that could benefit greatly from the national team’s current popularity. As national players returned to their club teams in late July, several organizations saw major attendances boosts. Sky Blue, in particular, was able to draw its first sell-out crowd of 5,547 at Yurcak Field at Rutgers University on August 22.

Rampone is optimistic that the World Cup momentum will continue to help the NWSL grow as a league. “We’re already seeing [improvement] with a better attendance at games, but it still has to come across the whole board of nine teams. […] I know everyone is on board that women don’t get the same advantages that men’s teams do, so hopefully fans will continue to support us because it does rely on the fans and sponsors to keep the league going,” Rampone said.

With Sky Blue’s season having wrapped up, Rampone has had time to celebrate her win and reflect on her experience. Along with being honored by the University, the returning world champion was welcomed home by a parade in Manasquan, a key to the city, and a celebratory event at Jersey Shore Medical Center. Oh, and July 28 was officially declared “Christie Rampone Day” in Monmouth County.

Balancing an international soccer career, public appearances, and motherhood is no easy task, but Rampone notes that the key to all her success is having a passion for what she does. “Just enjoy it,” she said as she signed autographs on the Great Lawn, where her unforgettable career has officially come full circle.

IMAGE TAKEN from sportingnews.com