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Players of All Ages Getting a Kick Out of Indoor Soccer : Soccer: Despite hot, cramped conditions in the YMCA, league thrives with 46 teams that draw hundreds of athletes. Ages range from 5 to over 50.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a steamy gymnasium last Sunday afternoon at the Lakewood YMCA, the hottest game of the year was about to begin.

Them and The Dales, undefeated teams in the area’s largest recreational indoor soccer league, were about to renew a rivalry they had begun 15 years ago outdoors.

Sweat dripped from scarlet-faced players, most in their late teens or early 20s. A giant floor fan whirled feverishly at one end of the converted basketball court, but did little to refresh at least 50 spectators lined two deep behind a five-foot-high clear plastic viewing wall.

Conditions in the gym have not hampered participation in the popular indoor league, organizers say. It annually draws nearly 400 men and women and more than 600 children to play games on Thursday and Friday nights and all day Saturday and Sunday. Players’ ages range from 5 to over 50. Some live more than 50 miles away.

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“Obviously, this league has a niche that no one else has,” referee Larry Yee said.

No one really knows how many indoor leagues are still operating. Similar attempts in the Inland Empire and Orange County failed. But the Lakewood league has lasted for at least 10 years, according to James Morgan, YMCA senior programs director.

Lynne Smith of Arcadia makes the trip each Saturday with her husband, Dennis, who has coached their daughter, Shellee, and teammates on a club team for 15 years, the last four indoors.

“I am very impressed with this league. There is no pressure on the players,” Smith said.

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Each team is charged $250 a season and an additional $20 a game for referees, who must be paid before game time. But if a team is a little short of funds, no one complains, organizers say. They usually make it up the following week.

Unlike most outdoor leagues, the Lakewood indoor league has no team standings and keeps no statistics. There are no playoffs. Uniforms are not required, although many teams wear them. Pairings are based on the quality of the teams. Participation awards are handed to all.

“It’s in keeping with the Y philosophy,” Morgan said. “Everyone is a winner.”

However, weekly scores are posted, so unofficially, at least, players on the 46 men’s and women’s teams know who’s hot and who’s not.

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“All these guys live and breathe soccer,” Morgan said. “They’re playing soccer all the time.”

Them, made up of graduates of Millikan High in Long Beach, and The Dales, from St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, have played out their rivalry indoors for the past four or five years. The Dales, named after the team’s burly 19-year-old goalie, Dale Osburn, won the big showdown last year--when the teams also were undefeated--by a goal.

“You have to have great stamina to play indoors,” Osburn said. “In here, the action is constantly moving. It helps keep you in shape over the summer, especially for the guys who are going on to play (outdoors) in college.”

Said teammate Randy Johnstone, 21: “I still like playing outdoors, but it’s not anything like playing here.”

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Several rule changes liven the indoor action. Women play with four field players and a goalie, men with three field players and a goalie. (Outdoor teams have 11 players in all.) The oft-criticized offside rule--a prime reason why outdoor soccer is low scoring and may appear boring to many Americans--is nonexistent indoors. Goalies often dribble forward, and sometimes score. But in doing so, they leave their own net unattended. Consequently, games with scores in double figures are common.

Rebounds off three mustard-yellow walls or off ground-level obstacles, such as the steel storage door at the south end of the field or the exit doors on the east wall, are in play. But a ball kicked up into the rafters 30 feet overhead, off the six basketball backboards or over the viewing wall is out of bounds.

The hardwood playing surface is the same length as a basketball court but about 1 1/2 times wider. At each end of the court, a steel frame supports a net 5 1/2 feet high and about as wide as a basketball key.

Action can be fierce. One viewing panel is patched with duct tape, the result of a hard-kicked ball.

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Said scorekeeper Jeanie Holt, who, along with her husband, Chester, volunteers to run the league: “The men are real rough and real aggressive. It’s a totally different type of game than it is for the women. With the men, that ball is whipping around.”

She said she has seen several broken legs, a broken nose and numerous ankle injuries over the years.

Holt, who spends most of her weekends scoring or watching the games, is also a goalie in the women’s division.

The ball is regulation size but covered with yellow felt. It bounces like a giant tennis ball. Tennis shoes, not rubber-tipped soccer shoes, are required. Shin guards--mandatory outdoors--are required inside as well, though the YMCA has not enforced the rule, Holt said, and few players wore them last weekend.

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Instead of yellow cards (cautions), two-minute penalties are assessed for pushing or unnecessary roughness. After six fouls, the offending team is assessed another two-minute penalty. As in ice hockey, the offending team plays short-handed until the penalty period is over.

A game consists of four 12-minute quarters. Halftime is only two minutes.

Because the pace on the court is often feverish, good footwork and quick reactions are necessary.

“I used to play softball,” said Susie Putnam, 42, of Long Beach. “But once I started playing indoor soccer, I found softball to be really boring because of all that standing around you do.”

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Putnam’s 20-year-old daughter, Tami, also plays, and her mother, June Taylor, is a regular spectator.

Morgan said the YMCA encourages players to make the soccer league a family affair. Osburn’s mother, for instance, attends most of The Dales’ games, and last Sunday members of a girls’ club team coached by Them goalie Dave Evans and a teammate were on hand.

Yee, a U.S. Soccer Federation official in charge of assigning referees in the Long Beach area, said he has become a better referee since he began working indoors nine years ago.

“What this has done for my personal growth is to give me better awareness of what a foul is,” Yee said. “It has made me more alert to what’s going on because things move so much more quickly here, and it has taught me how to better deal with the players in a professional way because I’m so close to them. Everything is enclosed.”

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Them took a 1-0 lead in the early minutes of the spirited showdown, but The Dales, bolstered by two quick goals by Johnstone, had a 2-1 edge in the second quarter. A goal by Jason Rosier upped the lead to 3-1, but with a minute remaining and The Dales playing short because of a penalty, Them cut the lead to 3-2.

But it was to be The Dales’ day as they slowly pulled away from Them. Johnstone’s fourth score lifted The Dales to a three-goal lead with five minutes remaining. The final tally was 6-4.

“I knew it would be tough, just like last year,” said Osburn, his T-shirt soaked and his face gleaming with sweat. “But it was a good, clean game, and that’s what happens when you get friends together.”

The teams shook hands quickly and exited the gym, finding cooler afternoon air at a soda shop nearby.

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