The Spitual: Byrd soccer girls have unusual pregame ceremony

As traditions go, the Byrd girls’ soccer team has one that would send most people running for cover.

Prior to the launch of every game, the starters meet at the 18-yard box and form a tight circle. With arms locked at shoulder level and with heads bent slightly inward, each player launches a wad of spit into a spot near the center of the circle. Every attempt is made for each wad to land on top of the previous wad. Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn’t.

Kathryn Miller, one of nine seniors competing for the No. 7 Lady Jackets, undefeated in district play, has performed the ritual more times than she cares to remember.

“It’s been a tradition forever, but I’ve always thought it was disgusting,” Miller said. “I still gag every time we do it, because I have a bad gag reflex, but I suck it up for the team.”

Once the spittle hits the turf, one player is designated to give a 15-second pep talk, then the team chants “1-2-3, break,” and the players stomp the saliva into the ground so the prying eyes of the opposition don’t see what took place. Among the potential stompees are fellow seniors Janelle Melancon, Lindsey Humphrey, Sarah Donahue, Anna Scott Lewis, Caroline Cupp, Abby Inabnet, Hannah Love or Alex Hahn, who is currently injured.

Miller’s mother, Leigh Ann, shrugs off what she calls, “The Spitual,” as part of the many traditions at Byrd.

“It’s part of what makes this team tight, cohesive and have an enormous bond that radiates through the coaches, players and parents,” Leigh Ann said. “Whether it’s their pregame stretching routine, the music they play, songs they sing or who carries the bag of game balls…”

Currently in her 20th season running soccer program on Line Avenue, coach Lisa Levermann has her team 24-4-1 overall while finishing 12-0 in Division I, District 1. The team allowed just one goal in district play this season and the senior class didn’t lose a league game (48-0) during their 4-year careers. That success means Levermann can give her team some non-traditional latitude. And although she isn’t sure when the spitting tradition began, she tries to ignore what is happening.

“I’ve seen a lot of crazy things during my career, but that may be one of the weirder ones,” Levermann said chuckling. “I’ve seen the dance and some of our parents were horrified when they realized what their daughters were doing. Some refs have been staring also. I just let it go.”

Most of soccer seniors, who battle daily for the roughly two dozen senior-designated parking spots on the Byrd campus, have played together in club soccer since the sixth grade. That process has formed them into a formidable group of opponents that could make a deep run in the upcoming Division I playoffs.

Hahn will be coaching from the sideline with Levermann.

“Alex is the captain of our bench and she really helps me a lot,” Levermann said. “She has a coaching mind. I have an awesome group of nine seniors that I will hate to lose. Sometimes you have years like that with a group that buys in.”

The Lady Jackets have one regular season game left on Monday against Loyola, then will find out on Tuesday who their playoff opponent will be.

The team also has a more traditional tradition that is winding down for the nine seniors. Before each game, a parent hosts the entire team at their home for a pregame meal. Sometimes it’s soup, sometimes sandwiches — occasionally just fruit. Every once in a while, the team enjoys lasagna. Miller knows the days of camaraderie are coming to a close.

“It started to hit us recently when we played our last game at Cargill,” she said. “It’s scary to think it’s all coming to an end.”

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