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Faculty Soccer Fan to Coach for a Day

Growing up in Brazil, Marguerite Itamar Harrison, assistant professor of Portuguese and Brazilian studies, became an avid fan of soccer -- or futebol, as it’s called in Brazil. And though she has always enjoyed the world’s most popular game as a spectator, she’s never played it and has never dreamed of coaching.

Until now.

Come this Saturday, Oct. 7, when Smith’s soccer team takes on Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), Harrison will take a seat on the Smith team bench as “Coach for the Day.”

She won’t really be coaching, she emphasizes (“a role that is incredibly daunting to me”), but “I am definitely looking forward to watching from the bench, a perspective I don’t usually have.”

Before the game kicks off, Harrison will talk to the Smith soccer team about Brazilian soccer, and about the college’s Portuguese language and culture courses. She also plans, as a Smith soccer fan and faculty member, to express her pride in them as student-athletes, who strive to perform at a high level on the field and in the classroom.

Harrison came to her role as Coach for the Day as a result of her interactions last year with Phil Neilson, Smith’s soccer coach, who audited two of her Brazilian studies courses, which are taught in Portuguese. “His presence truly added to the classroom dynamics in such a positive way,” she recalls. “In exchange, I told him that I wanted to do something for the Smith soccer team.”

Harrison says the Brazilian style of soccer favors creativity and improvisation, in addition to the basic skill and discipline necessary for a competitive game.

“Brazil is a country that lives and breathes soccer, its national passion,” she explains, pointing out that her country has taken the World Cup, soccer’s most prestigious championship, five times. “There is a sense of the sport as a source of fun for the players, and that is something I value a lot, and would want the players at Smith to take in, that sense of joy that comes from playing for the sake of playing.”

While growing up as a fan of Brazilian futebol, Harrison always watched from the stands, she remembers, because girls and women did not typically play the game. “In my day soccer was a very male sport. Since I’ve been in the U.S., I’ve watched the sport extend a space to women, which I am so happy to see. Futebol visibility and opportunities for women soccer players are still very slim in Brazil in comparison to here in the U.S.”

Soccer became an intercollegiate varsity sport at Smith in 1976 and has grown into one of the finest college programs in New England, producing 17 tournament championships and 16 post-season appearances. Smith soccer has recorded five straight winning seasons.

The October 7 game against WPI will take place at 2:30 p.m. on the Smith athletic field.

10/4/06   By Eric Sean Weld
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