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This article by Nicole Plett was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 23, 1999.

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For Soccer Kids — and Moms

Former Notre Dame High School soccer and track star

Dave Ungrady makes his authorial debut with, "Unlucky: A Season

of Struggle in Minor League Professional Soccer," based on the

1998 inaugural season of the Northern Virginia Royals, a D3 team of

the USISL, based in Fairfax. His book paints a harsh,

behind-the-scenes

portrait of the realities of American athletic competition beyond

the glitter and glory of the big leagues.

Ungrady, who lives in Alexandria, Virginia, returns to his home turf

to talk about and sign "Unlucky," published by Sport

Publishing

International (208 pages; $14.95), at Borders Books in Nassau Park

on Wednesday, June 23, at 8 p.m.

Ungrady credits John Wagner, who coached his Notre Dame High School

varsity soccer team to state titles in 1974 and ’75, as "by far

the best motivational coach in my life." He also credits his high

school track coaches, Gary Dambro and Dave Milinowicz, with lessons

in the work ethic. A portion of the book’s sales will benefit Notre

Dame’s Joe Wreblowski Memorial fund for a new school track.

Ungrady’s father, Emery Ungrady, is a former semi-pro baseball player

and retired dentist. He and his wife, Eva, have four sons. Emery Jr.

works for the Democratic party in the Trenton statehouse (but claims

no close relation to John Ungrady, the tax revolt leader). Tom, is

a dentist; and brother Paul just moved from Hopewell to take a job

with Merrill-Lynch in Japan.

"I was a frustrated jock whose soccer and track and field careers

in college were hampered by injury. I felt I never reached my

potential

in either sport," says Dave Ungrady, who attended University of

Maryland on a track scholarship and made the soccer team his freshman

year. After he strained an achilles tendon during pre-season soccer

training, his track coach barred him from further soccer. He

eventually

made captain of the Maryland track team, where he was an

all-conference

800-meter runner.

Shut out of college soccer competition, Ungrady won his own type of

"nerd’s revenge" by progressing straight into a career in

sportswriting. His first job out of college, in the early 1980s, was

as a news aide in the Washington Post sports department.

He is now vice president of Sports Publishing International, a

publisher

of magazines for the U.S. Youth Soccer Association and the U.S. Soccer

Federation, as well as newspapers for three state associations. His

freelance writing appears in Sport Magazine, the Washington Post,

Wall Street Journal, and Soccer Magazine. As a broadcaster, he has

done radio play-by-play for DC United, and on soccer broadcasts on

Fox Sports Net and College Soccer Weekly.

Ungrady was 20 years out of college and approaching 40, yet still

lusting for the grit and grapple of competition, when he decided to

not only chronicle the Royals’ first season but train with the team

and compete for a spot on the professionals’ roster.

As he writes in his introduction: "Why stop a just writing? Why

not train with the Royals? Why not see if I could get in a game? After

a lifetime of dreaming, this was my chance to finally, if fleetingly,

become a professional athlete!"

Ungrady makes no secret of the fact that his book was inspired by

George Plimpton’s "Paper Lion," whose first-person account

of his attempt to play as a quarterback with the Detroit Lions was

a bestseller in the mid-’60s. Another writer’s model was the

behind-the-scenes

reporting on high-profile sports of John Feinstein. "Close access

and time commitment were important to understanding the motives of

the players," explains Ungrady. "When you train with a team,

you become part of the team. It’s the best way to fully understand

what the players feel and how they play the game."

"I have little sympathy for professional athletes who complain

about coaching and management decisions and who have trouble making

ends meet on millions of dollars a year in salaries," writes

Ungrady.

He notes that the average salary for an NBA player is $40,000 a week;

at $70,000, the average annual salary for a MLS soccer player is less

than two weeks at the NBA pay scale. The team he profiles, the

Virginia

Royals, paid its players nothing — even the coach was not assured

a salary. In general in D3 soccer, the lowest tier in U.S.

professional

soccer, the most a player can hope for is about $10,000 a season.

Did Dave make the team and play for free? Is second-string

professional

soccer a reasonable choice for the aspiring offspring of America’s

soccer moms? Just ask Dave.

— Nicole Plett

Dave Ungrady, Borders Books, 601 Nassau Park,

609-514-0040.

Free. Wednesday, June 23, 8 p.m.


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