This summer a voice from somewhere behind me said, “Thank you for SAC.”
Then I felt a tap on my shoulder, and in turning I slowly began to recognize a friend I hadn’t seen in five years since he had moved to Columbia and I had moved to Harwich, Mass., on Cape Cod.
It took me a few seconds to grasp what he meant by SAC and his “thank you.” I realized he was referring to the Soccer Association of Columbia.
I had a quizzical look whereupon he said that SAC had given his son a team-member’s purpose and an outlet for his overabundance of energy. It had also given his parents a much more even keel for the family’s navigation of life with a hyperactive child.
The reason he said “thanks for SAC” to me was that he had remembered that I had been one of a half-dozen guys who together started SAC back around 1970. My friend’s thankfulness for what SAC was doing for his son and their family instantly brought into focus the fond memories of my early years in helping to get SAC started.
My memories begin on a sticky summer morning in 1970 when five or six of us met as strangers on an Oakland Mills field.
Doug Goodsir, Felix Rausch, Bill Sims, myself and a couple of others whose names escape me in my current elderly state noted that the Columbia Association had no specific plans to promote anything but the traditional American sports at both the neighborhood level and in the schools, that is, soccer hadn’t been considered.
The six of us were soccer fanatics and so right then and there we decided to try to develop a youth soccer program outside of the bailiwick of CA.
Soccer was a perfect sport to launch in Columbia for a variety of reasons the least of which was that Wates, as a co-developer of Columbia with Rouse, employed many U.K. and European people who became early residents of Columbia and candidates for soccer team coaching. The second important reason for our optimism was that we felt we could launch the program on a shoestring budget since there wasn’t much need for equipment to field teams.
In the fall of 1970 we registered around 200 kids of all ages from five neighborhoods. The registration fee was the exorbitant amount of $3 for the fall soccer season. Yes, that’s right, $3, which paid for a neighborhood-specific T-shirt, a matching pair of socks, three practice soccer balls and one game-day soccer ball for each team.
You couldn’t go anywhere in town without seeing the kids proudly wearing their T-shirts. The only size soccer ball that was available at the time was the full-sized one so the youngest kids could barely move the ball downfield given the marginally mowed grass. We built our own goal posts. We never considering a smaller-than-regulation goal size so it was next to impossible for a 7-year-old goalkeeper to stop the random shot that was above four feet off the ground. Still that initial year’s program was off and running.
In the early days, the team coaches were also the officers of the program, the referees, the field managers and the equipment managers.
The passion for our program was infectious and it wasn’t long before we had many parents helping out in many ways and the game-day sidelines were always crowded with enthusiastic parents. The main difficulty with the crowded side lines was that the parents, not knowing a thing about soccer rules or the game dynamics, were often shouting things that made no sense to their kids or their coaches.
Those of us who were knowledgeable refereed all the games and often stopped play right in the middle of the action to have teaching moments for both the players and the parents. These teaching moments truly helped us to expand the program in the following years as many more people took the reins of coaching. Those were the “good-old-days” of the early Columbia soccer program: $3 per kid for registration, no requirement for insurance, no paid refs, no paid coaches and not too much concern for who won or lost.
The success and growth of our early program was hard for CA not pay attention and eventually CA embraced us as SAC. It seemed like overnight we were fielding multiple teams from each neighborhood, more new neighborhoods were contributing teams and many new fields were being developed (including field clearing and leveling help for free from The Army Corps of Engineers). American-style football coaches were beginning to complain that some of the best athletes in each age group were abandoning football for soccer.
The next thing we knew we were holding tryouts for a couple of traveling teams one of which in the 10-to-12 age bracket I coached. That travel team began playing teams in Baltimore that significantly outclassed us in the first year. Aside from the novelty of competing against a bunch of hicks from the Howard County farming district, the Baltimore kids and their parents had never seen a black youth soccer player and we had two black kids who were starters.
As long as the Baltimore teams were winning there was no apparent issues beyond a curiosity of us fielding black 11-year-old kids. Then we started winning some games and during a few of these games vicious racial taunts started to be tossed out from the sidelines. At one of those instances I pulled the team off the field until the ref could get the parents under control. A few years of playing together brought amazing results topped off when my same team (as 16-year-olds) beat an all-star team assembled from the best of the Baltimore league teams in the finals of the very first SAC Memorial-Day tournament.
The thing I most remember was the glorious feelings that I had coaching wonderful and talented kids who were supported by an unwavering parental group. One final thing I’ll share and that was telling my neighbor’s child, Darryl Gee, at age 11 that if he wanted to become a professional soccer player (his pipe-dream not mine) that he needed to spend hours in his garage with the ball at his feet (both feet) so that the ball would become an extension of his being. ‘
Fast-forward a few years and we have Darryl being drafted by the New York Cosmos right after he graduated from Oakland Mills. Playing with Pele and other world class players that were part of the Cosmos was beyond a dream come true for Darryl and an unreal success story for SAC. There were thousands of other success stories that all could tell the readers but for me whenever I’ve been asked what has brought me the most joy in life one of my first answers helping to start SAC. So, thank you SAC!
Larry Jobson writes from Harwich, Mass.