This is the story of a girl coming to love her local professional soccer teams. It wasn’t that I didn’t like soccer before, I was just indifferent. I had watched the epic women’s World Cup final in 2015 and of course left that evening cheering alongside friends thinking that the players were amazing. But I still didn’t follow the sport. Then we got connected with what was formerly the Carolina Railhawks (Katy and Ryan started it all for us!!) because my adopted little brother loves soccer and there is a player on the team from South Africa who even speaks the same tribal language as him. So we went to a few games here and there. But here’s where I get hooked in. I was asked to shoot a series of events in the winter of 2016, into early 2017 (all featured below) – first up, a press conference to announce the rebranding of the team, the plan to acquire a women’s team, the plan to build a new stadium, and the plan to get an MLS bid. I mean, lots of things to get excited about in one press conference. I loved what they did with the new branding – all the North Carolina Football Club logos and such looked SHARP. That evening I came back and shot the celebration event for these announcements. Then on a snowy day a few months later, I headed to Wake Med Soccer Park to shoot the press conference announcing that we got the women’s team and that they would be called the NC Courage. Our brand new governor, Roy Cooper, even came out for that one! Afterward, standing around with everyoneI got to hear from some of my friends on staff how the Courage came to be – I love a back story! A couple of my besties were super stoked as they love women’s soccer so I was catching the excitement.
Here’s what really got me – this past spring I photographed the season ticket holder’s meet and greet for both the men and women’s teams. I watched as some of the players made sure they spoke to every child in the room. I watched as kids looked back up at them with huge eyes, mesmerized that these amazing soccer players were talking to THEM, signing THEIR GEAR. My little brother barely spoke words and couldn’t even eat the entire time as he was so overwhelmed being in the same room as the men’s team. As awkward as a meet and greet like that could be, I could really see how truly kind and warm and generous so many of the players were as they spoke to the people who would be cheering them on week after week. A few of the player’s family’s even spoke with me after having me take family pictures, telling me how excited they were and how amazing their soccer playing “kid” was. This is what hooked me in – seeing that the players are real people. I learned about their stories. THIS is what got me interested. This is also what makes me want to offer story consulting to businesses and groups like this because story is everything. Knowing your own story, telling it well, and connecting it with other people is EVERYTHING. So those last pictures in this thread are just a few of many game day iPhone selfies. At the men’s games I get to watch my little brother study their every moves, excitedly want to join the supporters in the “cussing section”, get real shy when Tiyi Shipalane now hugs him and calls him brother after the games, and then he buzzes with energy all the way home. At the women’s games I get to spend time with old friends, while also making new friends (Hey Ben/Kevin! Hey Kat and family! Hey Courage player’s families who find their way over to us!) to “recruit” into our beloved Section 108 shenanigans. Some of the emotionally hardest days of my life have fallen on Courage game days, and I am now able to recognize just how important it was for me to sit amongst some of my favorite people while wearing a shirt that says “Courage”… I didn’t have to talk, I didn’t have to do anything. I got out of bed on those hard days because I wanted to cheer on our favorite ladies of the NC Courage while my people helped carry me through.