NEW YORK — The U.S. Women’s World Cup champions were saluted Friday with a ticker tape parade along New York’s vaunted Canyon of Heroes, a historic and rare moment for female athletes.
On a glorious July morning, the 23-member squad that defeated Japan 5-2 before a record-breaking U.S. television audience Sunday became the first women’s sports team bestowed with a parade along a stretch of Lower Manhattan where millions have cheered on soldiers, kings, astronauts, the Yankees and Giants.
“Being able to see something like this firsthand is something young girls can only dream of,” said Samantha Ruotsi, 20, who came from Buffalo, New York. “I am so proud to have grown up in a country with such strong women, and it’s an inspiration to be a part of this history.”
Indeed, the last time female athletes paraded along the Canyon of Heroes was in 1984, when gold medalists Mary Lou Retton and Cheryl Miller joined other U.S. medal winners — male and female — after the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
“Women from sports that are dominated by men are finally getting the attention they need,” said Lauren Laning, 14, a New Jersey resident. “It’s inspiring to young girls.”
In 1960, the winner of the Olympic gold medal in figure skating, Carol Heiss, was feted with a ticker tape parade along the Canyon of Heroes. She was a local heroine who grew up in Queens.
There were also parades for Amelia Earhart in 1928, as the first woman to complete a trans-Atlantic flight, and a salute to the women in the armed services in 1951, according to the business improvement group for Lower Manhattan, the Downtown Alliance.
“This is a huge moment not just for women’s soccer but soccer in general,” Greg Lalas, a former U.S. soccer defender and editor-in-chief of MLSsoccer.com, told CNN. “I don’t know of a ticker tape parade for soccer at all. … It’s amazing what this team did to really bring this entire nation together — not just for women’s soccer but soccer in general.”
Floats carried the players — who were showered with tons of confetti made from paper scraps — from Battery Park to City Hall, where throngs celebrated their victory with a massive rally and Mayor Bill de Blasio presented each player with a key to the city.
De Blasio called members of the team heroines on and off the field, and an inspiration for women of all ages.
“Young women who watched that game will grow up, and they’ll tell their daughters and they’ll tell their sons about that 2015 championship team that made history — and opened minds and bought us together,” he said.
And the mayor reminded the crowd of the special occasion — the first women’s team honored with a ticker tape parade.
“It’s about time, isn’t it?” he said.
Abby Wambach, 35, who played in her last World Cup match Sunday, thanked the fans.
“I can’t discount how important you guys were — the fans — in bringing home this World Cup for us,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of amazing experiences … but this actually will go down as the best thing I have ever been a part of in my life.”
Head coach Jill Ellis said, “Winning the World Cup was pretty special, but today was mind-blowing. I hope you celebrate for a long, long time, New York. ”
Carli Lloyd, who led her team to a record third Women’s World Cup and scored three times in Sunday’s championship match, summed up the moment Friday on Twitter with a photo of herself among the throngs and the simple hashtag #CHAMPIONS.
For her play, Lloyd was awarded the Golden Ball, signifying she was the best player at the World Cup. She also tied for most goals (six) in the tournament with Celia Sasic of fourth-place Germany.
Sunday’s victory over the defending champion in Vancouver, British Columbia, gave the Americans their first opportunity to lift the World Cup trophy since 1999.
“We look up to them,” said New Jersey resident Jenna Lombardo, 26. “Nobody works harder than them.”
Her friend, Suzy Massara, 29, added: “It’s so great that they’re bringing the nation together.”
U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo, voted the tournament’s best at her position and who had three saves in the final game, tweeted a photo of herself Friday with the message: “So excited to be in New York for today’s #USWNTParade! Already an amazing crowd.”
De Blasio announced the hastily prepared parade this week.
On Monday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer got New Yorkers involved when she circulated a letter she sent to the mayor calling for a special parade for the U.S. women’s team.
“New York City has a strong history of honoring sports achievements in the Canyon of Heroes, but has never held a parade to honor a women’s team,” she wrote. “Our newest soccer champions represent an opportunity for New York to recognize that heroes and role models come in all genders.”
One day later, New York City first lady Chirlane McCray tweeted, “The people have spoken and they want a ticker tape parade to celebrate … ”
The parade cost is reportedly $2 million, with $450,000 coming from private donations, and the rest paid for by the city.
“It’s nice to celebrate something with all the bad things going on right now,” said Mike Mehrens, 56. “Soccer is the greatest sport in the world, and we’ve finally reached the pinnacle. It’s my first parade, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”