Local Community Takes Pride In Utah Royals FC

Mar 18, 2024, 10:35 AM | Updated: 10:39 am

lindsey vonn Michelle Hyncik...

Utah Royals FC part-owner Linsey Vonn poses with Royals president Michelle Hyncik.

SANDY, Utah – Well before the Utah Royals took the field in front of a record-setting crowd Saturday night,  it was already a historic moment for some.

It had nothing to do with it being the largest crowd for a women’s sporting event in Utah (20,370) or the attendance of the team’s famous new owner – Olympic Skiing legend Lindsey Vonn.

The real significance of the team’s opening-day match for people like 52-year-old Letitia Comstock was that it was finally finding something in the world of sports that belongs to them.

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“We weren’t allowed to play sports like this or even encouraged,” she said, covering her mouth as tears filled her eyes. “Your job was to get married and have kids.”

But she loved athletics.

Sports however, were not really designed for girls.

She played softball until she was in sixth grade, and then the junior high offered girls volleyball and basketball. She loved volleyball.

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But the older she got, the more she heard how misplaced her love for the games was.

It seemed everyone had a reason to discourage her passion for athletics.

What was the point of girls playing sports – especially past childhood? It’s a waste of time.

So, she moved on to music and writing. But she never lost her love for the games. And she continued to devour any crumbs she was allowed.

“My grandma would tell us to be ladylike, but she loved football,” she said with a grin so wide, it momentarily stopped her tears. “And she loved sports. We either had a football or a baseball game on the TV all the time. No matter what time of day, she always had a game on.”

While her sisters found other things more entertaining, she watched the games and wondered why there wasn’t a version for her.

“I think my grandpa knew I was just different,” she said, her voice almost a whisper. “He would take me out back with these old – I think they were from 1930 – baseball mitts. They were terrible mitts, but he’d just play baseball with me. It was my favorite thing ever.”

It’s a reality she has a hard time explaining to those who’ve never experienced it.

“I don’t think my daughters understand what this really means to me,” she said, covering her mouth as tears fill her eyes. “I didn’t want that for my kids, that they had to be just this (one thing). I wanted them to see that they had choices.”

For her, the match is more than a game.

It’s permission to be the person she wants to be.

She feels a sense of belonging so deeply that all she can do is cry – and celebrate.

She owns season tickets to the sports team for the first time in her life. The Royals belong to her. She doesn’t even know all the players’ names, and she’s still learning the game’s intricacies.

But after watching the men in her life enjoy any and every athletic competition they can imagine, she is reveling in something built for people like her.

“Tonight was such a privilege,” she said, emotion choking her voice to a whisper. “I can’t even tell you how much it meant. First of all, to be able to hear someone sing the National Anthem…and to see all these women lined up with all those little girls, it was such a privilege to be there.”

Nothing felt insignificant.

The packed pre-game festival, the long lines for stadium delicacies like hot dogs and nachos, the gear designed for women and even the impressive media coverage.

Everything felt ridiculously special.

Being part of a sold-out crowd supporting a team whose newest owner was one of the best Alpine ski racers of all time, well, that just made reveling in this moment more satisfying, more validating.

And she wasn’t alone.

Even the new owner, Lindsey Vonn, exuded excitement in a pre-game press conference, sitting next to the two men responsible for bringing the team back to Utah—Ryan Smith and David Blitzer.

RELATED: Lindsey Vonn Announces Part-Ownership Of Utah Royals

Vonn said that when Blitzer called to invite her to join the ownership group, she didn’t hesitate. In fact, she didn’t even wait for the question.

“You didn’t even finish the sentence, and I was like, ‘I’m in! I’m in!” she said to laughter.

Utah is an adopted home for Vonn, who competed in her first Olympics in the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games at age 17. She’s spent years training, skiing, and investing in her second home. She is also a member of the current Utah Olympic bid committee.

“I love being a part of this community,” she said, noting that her foundation will give away 25 tickets to deserving girls each game and host a Strong Girls camp in Utah this summer. “Whether I live here full time or not, I want to support it, and I had the opportunity to work alongside these two amazing men who support women and who want to see women succeed. That’s, that doesn’t happen very often.”

Both Ryan Smith and David Blitzer said something special is happening in all of women’s athletics right now. Vonn, who once hoped to get permission to race against men in a World Cup event, said this is a moment all female athletes have been fighting for just by showing up and competing.

“I’ve had a lot of instances where it wasn’t treated fairly or treated less than my male counterparts,” she said. “But I focus on what I did with it, and what I can do for others going forward. And of the 20,000 people here, there will definitely be kids, that will become NWSL players 100 percent. And so that’s how I look at it; I look at investing in women’s sports as an opportunity to pave a new path that’s hopefully better than the one that I was on an easier path for them to accomplish their dreams.”

Blitzer said he and Smith agreed to bring the team back to Utah before they understood what it would entail.

“It was just a natural thing to do,” Blitzer said. “To bring a women’s soccer team back to Utah that did very well here, that was supported by the community, and they did amazing things in the community.”

Smith and his ownership group see the team as a communal asset, not just a community investment.

“I think we’re showing the art of the possible,” Smith said. “I mean, honestly, this is a startup. I don’t think we all know what it is.”

RELATED: Royals FC Drop Season Opener In Front Of Sold-Out Crowd

He pointed to their president, Michelle Hyncik, who was an attorney for Real Salt Lake and jumped at the chance to take on a new role with the club. He listed some of the other owners, who stood in the back of the room.

“They’re all betting on us,” he said. “That’s the impact. You’re seeing an impact a little microcosm of it right here. Hopefully, that continues out. Because these are, these are prominent people who believe in this vision of women’s sports and Utah at the same time, that pulling that together. And hopefully this is a place where that can bring the community together.”

And as much as it feels good to say we’re a community that embraces women’s sports, until the Royals, Utah wasn’t always a place that put its money where its professions of love were.

Ironically, it’s the man who was forced to let the team go in 2020 that, in a way, was part of making this historic moment possible. Dell Loy Hansen invested in the Royals at a level most female athletes have never experienced.

“I would say when the Utah Royals came into the NWSL, they absolutely lifted the standard for how women professional, all soccer was going to look,” said head coach Amy Rodriguez, who played for the Royals. “The way they treated us, the facilities, the management, everything here was world-class.”

With the kind of money that is usually reserved for men’s sports, the NWSL enjoyed a historic weekend – sold-out stadiums, record-setting viewership, and exploding popularity.

“There is a tipping point in how women’s sports is being viewed, how it’s being invested in,” Vonn said. “And people are starting to catch on that women’s sports is awesome, and it will only continue to grow. …This is more than a moment. It’s a movement.”

A movement that people like Letitia Comstock have waited a lifetime to join.

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Local Community Takes Pride In Utah Royals FC