Walking football finds a foothold in Ashland
Photo of Jim Flint Carl Prufer, left, and Lauren Schaffer guard against Marilyn Hawkins’ scoring attempt during a foot soccer match at North Mountain Park.
Photo of Jim Flint Lauren Schaffer (red) prepares to throw the ball as Marilyn Hawkins walks towards the net during a scrimmage at North Mountain Park.
Photo of Jim Flint Marilyn Hawkins kicks a ball away from the net after Lauren Schaffer and Carl Prufer try to score, Ron Bass defending on the right. Participants play soccer by walking most Saturday mornings in Ashland.
Photo of Jennifer Margulis, also a participant. The players take a break at the net after a game of foot football in Ashland. From left to right, Earle Sloan, Tom Pyle, Marilyn Hawkins, Mac Jefferson, Guinara Iskhakova and Carl Prufer.
The popularity of pickleball as a sport for older people is well known. But how many people over the age of 60 play and enjoy football? More than you can imagine.
Foot-football was born in the United Kingdom as early as 1932. It is only recently that it has gained momentum among older Americans. And now, thanks to Carl Prufer, enthusiasts are playing the game in Ashland.
As a basic sport, foot-jogging has developed ad hoc and variable rules. The Football Association in England stepped in to create official guidelines and rules, helping to turn a hobby or form of exercise into competitive tournaments for those who still had room in their trophy cabinet.
Prufer, 83, heard about foot football from a friend, Owen Jones, a Briton. “He told me what was going on in England.”
Prufer has been a football player and coach most of his life.
“I started coaching as a parent to a son and a daughter who both wanted to play football,” he said. “I thought it sounded like fun, and I convinced a bunch of guys at work to go out onto a lot (lot) to try it out.”
Some of his Bay Area work buddies were former players, and soon they found themselves competing in a league.
Twenty years later, around 1995, he moved from the Bay Area to the Rogue Valley. He continued the game here. “No coaching,” he said, “but a lot of play – as part of Ashland Soccer Club, plus Friday night pickup matches.”
He became a certified referee and officiated in youth soccer games. “I had to run more as a referee than as a player,” he said with a laugh.
Around the age of 63, he felt he was getting too slow for the game, so he decided to try his hand at sculling. He joined the Ashland Rowing Club (now the Rogue Rowing Club). But when he learned to walk soccer, it piqued the interest of one of the game’s former soldiers.
Prufer couldn’t do it alone, so he decided to spread the word by teaching it through OLLI to SOU. He taught two blended courses, one in the fall of 2020 and another in the following spring.
“I had about 10 people in each class, and about half of them came out to the field to try it out,” he said. Now, there are about 20 scrum taking part at the North Mountain Park ball field.
It’s still a pickup game, “he said,” although we play quite regularly on Saturday mornings. It’s very informal, although I keep my whistle handy.
For the most part, the rules do not deviate from the original football game. However, they have been modified to protect the health and stamina of older participants, and for maximum enjoyment.
The game is played on a small field with small goals. There is no race, with or without the ball. There is no contact, no balls over the head and no offside.
While it’s not as fast or risky as regular football, there is still plenty of action in the walking version.
“Some people can walk quite quickly,” Prufer said. “And the five-on-five competition can be pretty intense.
Has anyone been injured in Ashland games?
“Nothing serious,” Prufer said. A plague this or that. “But the feedback I got is that it’s really fun, and let’s keep doing it. “
Participants are mostly in their sixties and sixties, with two in their fifties and two in their 80s. They enjoy the social aspects of play, group play and exercise. Some are novices. Others have some experience.
Marilyn Hawkins, 69, lives in Ashland and played football for over 20 years in Seattle in the Washington State Women’s Soccer Association leagues.
“That is until a cold morning where I went up for a head and I went down without a right Achilles,” she said.
Hawkins heard about Prufer’s group at the Centennial Golf Club in Medford.
“A woman I play golf with told me about the game,” Hawkins said. “I introduced myself for the first time a few months ago and I immediately hooked. Turns out I’m probably better at football than golf.
She says walking in soccer is a great way to get a serious sweat, and she appreciates the fact that it’s co-ed.
“I think the guys really enjoy the friendly competition and the frivolous, trashy talk,” she said. “And it’s worth going to the gym.”
Tom Pyle, 82, says it’s “definitely” a lot of fun.
“But it’s also very difficult to just walk and not start running,” he said. “It’s not that my run would be faster than my walk. It’s not easy to try not to run.
Pyle wishes the goals were bigger. “Every time I shoot I miss it!”
Lauren Schaffer, 70, of Ashland, had never played football before.
“I like to stay in shape and train, cycling being my main sport,” she said. “I heard about the game, got involved and it’s just a lot of fun.”
She is impressed by her fellow participants.
“There are a lot of alumni in incredible form who are very competitive. It’s a really fun group of people, ”she said.
Prufer would love to see a Medford team come together. “We could fight,” he said. “We are looking forward to the day when we can play with other teams.”
For more information on foot football and how to participate, email Prufer at [email protected]
Contact Ashland writer Jim Flint at [email protected]