When I was a kid growin’ up, for an athlete, life was pretty much a 3-sport world — baseball, football and basketball. St. Louis was my hometown and when I first got to high school I started noticing for the first time that local college, St. Louis University, had a pretty good soccer team. They were nationally recognized in a sport that was never played by anyone that I knew.
Nonetheless, I began to hear more about this international sport as I went out for basketball in the winter of my freshman year and even, to my surprise, found out that St. Louis was recognized as one of the soccer centers of our nation. It was still very much a minor sport, however.
My high school, Principia, had a soccer team, and it played in the cold of the winter season, but all the best athletes pretty much played basketball.
After my sophomore year playing basketball and aggressively fouling out of nearly every game I played, my coach suggested to me that my rough and tumble nature might just be better for the soccer team.
Thus began my love affair with the sport of soccer.
At first I really wasn’t very good at it. I grew up with a ball in my hand, not on my foot. In my junior year I played little and learned a lot. For my senior year I decided that I would learn to shoot penalty shots since I had sat by and watched us lose far too many games blowing those shots in my junior year. So I would stay out after practice with our goalie for an extra hour each day and just shoot and shoot until I became good at it.
We had a decent team my senior year. I was still not particularly a skilled player, but I had a knack for scoring in close and around the goal probably because of my tireless work shooting penalty shots.
In track I was a pretty decent pole-vaulter and so at the end of my senior year I got an athletic scholarship to the University of Virginia.
There, in my freshman year of college, I got tremendous coaching in both soccer and pole-vaulting and improved my skill set in rapid fashion.
However, I decided that a big university was not for me and enrolled at a small college back in the mid-west called Principia College.
Sadly, Prin College did not have a soccer team.
College soccer season was a fall sport and rivaled football. Principia’s athletic director, Jim Crafton, was a die-hard football coach who lived for the fall football season.
He was not at all interested in supporting a soccer team as well with an enrollment of only 700-800 students.
But also transferring in that year were a couple of my other high school soccer teammates who were excellent players – Bill Foster, our center half and the best player on the H.S. team, and Jon Fisher, our right wing. Along with John Andrews, our right halfback, who was too light for college football and was already enrolled at Principia, we decided to try our luck at starting a student supported soccer club.
L>R: Jon Fisher, Link, Bill Foster, John Andrews – Founders of Prisoc
We knew we needed a coach, so we 4 sophomores met several times to see if there might be a potential coach and faculty sponsor in the faculty who might work with us. Hardly any of the staff even knew what soccer was at the time, but there was one longtime fine arts teacher of Swiss decent named Dr. Reinhardt Ross who had once played soccer and loved the sport. We asked him if he were interested and he jumped at the chance.
Along with our coach, Riney Ross, the four of us held tryouts, booked an 8 game season with other neighboring college’s varsity teams and even organized a season. Riney even went out and bought uniforms for us replete with school colors, shirts, pants and socks and our agreed upon name in blue across the back of the gold jerseys – Prisoc (Principia Soccer Club).
Bill Foster, Bud Kimbrough, Pete Link Bob Smith
We ran a few ads in the school paper, The Pilot, and for our first game actually had about a hundred students come out to the game. We had to play early Saturday mornings because we did not dare schedule a game at the same time as the beloved football team that played each Saturday afternoon.
In the course of our season, soccer caught on at Principia. For the women on campus, it was a much more understandable game to watch. Also they knew who was playing since our faces weren’t covered up by football helmets.
Coach Crafton was not pleased. Several players on the soccer team were quite good athletes, Bill Foster being one of them, and in another world would have been playing football.
But we won more than 50% of our games that year and generated much respect and fun on campus. Besides, we were youth rebelling against the traditional, and in the 60s that was definitely the thing to do.
When was it not?
Our team was led by the great all-around play of Bill Foster, the fierce determination and never tiring Johnnie Andrews, a bulldog goalie named Alan Orcutt and the ever-graceful Jon Fisher. Bud Kimbrough, right forward, Bob Smith and Maurice Weidman, our two fullbacks and Kim Brady, halfback, also formed a tough defense that kept the games low scoring. I was center forward and high scorer.
We, little Principia College soccer club, actually played Washington University in St. Louis, a school of some 30,000 to a 3-3 tie in one game. We were on the map.
Our second season went even better. We played a much longer schedule, some pretty tough colleges of far greater size and held our own. We won 66% of our games that year and the school support was tremendous. We’d have 300-400 people at each game at home and a busload at all away games. Even cheerleaders! One Saturday somebody counted the attendance at our game and also at the football game that afternoon and ours was the greater number. Soccer had arrived and the word was that Jim Crafton, the athletic director (the football coach) was not a happy guy.
But Jim Crafton was a most graceful man. Oh he loved his football, and this success of our little club had to be tough for him, but at the end of our junior year he announced that Prisoc would no longer be Prisoc – rather, starting in our senior year, 1965, it would now become Principia’s New Varsity Sport!
Thus soccer was born at Principia College.
Our senior year let no one down. A new freshman came in, Chip McCarthy, who was really from another generation – a kid who had grown up playing soccer first — much like today’s kids. He had all the skills, great confidence, and he added a terrific scoring threat to our front line. He made a good team even better.
For me, the most memorable moment that year, and probably the most memorable moment of my athletic lifetime was a game we played away at Eastern Illinois University’s home field. Eastern Illinois, a mid-west soccer powerhouse school of 13,000 vs little ol’ Principia (750) varsity.
I remember it was late in the year, it was freezing cold and we were scared silly to be facing such a team. But our defense held. At the end of the first half the score was 0-0. At the end of the game the score was still 0-0. We had played our hearts out. We were exhausted and our first string had played most of the game with very few substitutions.
The coaches decided instead of a penalty shot shoot out, we would play up to two 5-minute overtimes. At the end of the first overtime the score was still 0-0.
About 2 minutes into the second overtime when we just had nothing left, I suddenly found myself alone in front of their goal with the ball and only their goalie between me and victory. I turned to shoot and their goalie dove for the ball at my foot. But he missed and I was able to get around him and dribble the ball all the way into the goal. I wasn’t going to kick it even though I had a clear shot, because I knew this was the only chance we’d ever have. With no one now in front of me I took the ball right into the netting of the goal and collapsed into the net with the ball. Sudden death. We scored!
We had won the game. My teammates piled all over me trying to extract me from the net as the 5000 EIU supporters left the stadium in shock.
We had beaten the mighty giant. David and Goliath, an’ all that.
Looking back, we were always a bit ragtag, but we were a team. We believed in ourselves and it didn’t matter that we were from a small school; we were a group of dedicated players with a cause far beyond the game itself. We were out to prove that soccer was a great game to be valued as an American sport.
Today, of course, it is. More kids across America probably play soccer than any other sport growing up.
We were a small part of the beginning of this. Not just at Principia, but in America.