Catching Soccer's Central Pa. History Before It Disappears
I almost don't know where to start.
A lot of this is going to be wrong, but it is from my memory. I am hoping this article starts something. I need to find people, interview them, share stories and pictures, and write our story.
The beginning for me and my classmates, sometime from the mid to late-1970s at Clearfield High School, was in gym class. We were playing this game of soccer in gym class and some of us hippies and burn-outs were pretty good at it. I'd heard there was gonna be a soccer team formed and that the first practice was going to be at the Clearfield County Fairgrounds. I showed up to play early on the appointed day and there was a guy standing there in the middle of a pile of soccer balls. Scott Barnes was apparently going to be the first ever coach of the first ever soccer team in Clearfield, Pa. He was maybe a year or two older than I was and I knew him from around school because he was good at art. He had a clip-board with a sign-up sheet and you could sign beside the number you wanted on your jersey. There were a lot of names. I felt like I was maybe too late to sign up or the team was full or something. I signed beside the number 40.
I remember little else about the day. But there was something going on with something called the Youth Advisory Council and part of the outreach to us "at risk youth" was the formation of a soccer team which came to be known as "The Status Offenders." Another permutation of this was the printing of a local newspaper called "Our Times," which many of us also worked on.
Our newspaper was concerned with the legality of school locker searches and the latest music. This would place the time around 1975, probably 1976, the bicentennial, when I'd have been in 9th grade. This is the only thing that pins me to the specific time; Mike Collavecchi's review of the Black Sabbath album, "Sabotage." I remember it because Mike had this awful way of misspelling "Sabboth" that I had to edit the whole way through his article. The Youth Advisory Council had SOMETHING to do with a lanky, skinny, hippie kind of social worker type guy named Dan Rogers. Dan was always around like an advisor for our little radical paper and I remember him being on hand on the sideline a few years later in Brookville. Lost my 1979 class ring that day. I'd put it in the jewelry bag on the sideline and never saw it again. Dan stayed with soccer a long time, as did I. I am still with the game. I suppose I was among the first and now am among the last. Our uniforms took after the green and white of the New York Cosmos. You see, Pele had come to America and set the grass on fire. Barnes, the coach, was learning from books and was very skillful with the ball. Rogers might have had to have been the first referee. There were no teams to play against. At least I don't remember them. Everything at this time is mixed up in my mind. The Status Offenders played through the summer in the first season and it must have gone well because a "Fall League" season was started where I was a founding member of the other Clearfield team, The Strikers. The Strikers wore red. The first Fall League games I remember getting were a best of seven with a team from Houtzdale, against the Moshannon Valley Rowdies. Their uniforms and style seemed to come from the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the old Major League Soccer. Their team was led by a very good player named Doug Springer. The series ended in a draw. 3 games apiece and a tie. The following spring, those of us who were original Status Offenders returned to our beloved green and white and The Strikers also came into our league. There was some fussing about who was playing with who, but it basically shook out that the older guys played with The Strikers and drank at Buster's on the East End. We younger guys played together and partied outside at various keggers or get togethers. We like to think that The Status Offenders' parties were excellent!
The schism in Clearfield led to loads of rivalry and good games. Players on my teams included Scott, Brian and Kenny Barnes, Roger Moore, Karl Kendrick, Keith Bertram, Mike Collavecchi, Someone we called "Cleevis" whose name I cannot for the life of me remember. Gary Belinda and Richie Tourtillotte.
Over the years there were a lot of wrestling names. Clearfield has a proud wrestling tradition and by happenstance it turned out good wrestlers made good soccer players and vice-versa. Guys on The Strikers included Eddie Anderson, my first cousin Craig Nelson (who was key to much rivalry in my family, and those stories will follow), Dan Rogers, Greg Brickley, Jack Volpe, John Nadeau, Colin Howell. There were loads of good players over the years and it's all a blur. And the rivalry was real, as was the respect, and now, all these years later, the friendship. Before long, other teams in Clearfield arose too; Bud's Electric Blast comes to mind. There was a Clearfield team name of "The Warriors," which I have to think was named after the great 1979 film. Good players like Jeff Mease and Todd McCool came along. But nobody could much top The Strikers' early run. I want to say they won seven championships in a row at one point. It wasn't until many years later, when I joined Philipsburg United, that I got my first championship. But it is these early years I am concerned with. It was a time when soccer here was a very rough, curious mix of American and European football. The league maybe became something called The North Star Soccer Leauge, which, to my mind, operated out of The Jarred Bar in DuBois. DuBois always had an older team and a younger team; one was called "The Nads." There were teams from Brockway and Brookville. West Branch (Morrisdale area) had the Warriors and I can trace the quality strains of West Branch soccer tradition down through names like Brian Fenton, Justin Lee, Phil Wood, Jamie Owens and many, many others. Philipsburg's entry in the league was called United and was founded by some British kids whose parents owned Power Operating at the time. United had a guy name of Simon Reed who could really hit the ball hard. There was another guy name of Richie Nevins and a score of other really solid players. I always remember the games between my team, which later became UCT, and United were really good games. Always close, one goal affairs. And I always remember some British guy, probably one of the player's fathers, calling out in a high voice, "Let's Go United!" I'm going to call this proto-era of soccer "The Town-ball Era." The reason being, you had very loose rules. You could show up one day and destroy Brookville and when the playoffs rolled around you'd be playing Brookville again, but it would be rife with players from Clarion University. There were no age levels. If you were good enough, you could play. In time, each town began to ruin it by forming local soccer associations. Taking something good and choking the life out of it. These grew and became more regimented. Age groups formed. And before long, The Clearfield Association wouldn't work with the Philipsburg Association wouldn't work with the West Branch Association wouldn't work with the DuBois Association. They still will not work together to this day, which is what is holding rural soccer back, in my opinion.
Sanctioning organizations like USSF, AYSO and Pa. West crept in and clamped the deathly cowl of liability over everything. To me, they killed The Townball Era here and ruined the spirit of soccer for a long time to come. It is today almost impossible for local organizations to cary the onerous wants of organizations like that. In fact, the liability nut, which also killed off all our public parks in the 70s, is strangling America in general. Sanctioning organizations gain their power ONLY through the pox of insurance.
That said, I would say the quality of the game locally has gotten better as years have gone by. But the spirit is missing. Maybe I'm just old, maybe I'm nostalgic, but there used to be a time where a bunch of players could get together and sponsor some jerseys and they could play in a league where they kind of represented their town. The Townball Era.
I was perhaps the first player who went to college and played. I walked on at Slippery Rock and everything I learned, I learned for the first time in the college setting, so I was lucky. And everything I learned, I brought home to Clearfield and shared with youth leagues here. I helped germinate some of the good teams in the early days of the Clearfield Association.
I had a team sponsored by Clearfield Tire that was noteworthy in the amount of real soccer lifers that came from there. Erik Kauffman and his brother and parents were key. At the time we were playing 11 v 11 on a full size football field at U8. Kids learned to pass the ball, for one thing, because they simply didn't have the legs to run that size of field.
Man, there is so much ground to cover. And I need you guys' help to get this all down. I am fixing to record your stories and flesh out my own and maybe produce a book to enshrine these stories. Perhaps I can meet with you and record interviews. Maybe I can find artifacts and news clippings and photographs to show just how wild a time it was before soccer got "organized." Some of us have thought about maybe having a re-union on the Saturday of the Clearfield County Fair, since many return to the area for that event. What shape such an event takes might be really fun and we can use this forum to shape something like that if you guys want to. But I know this. Some of the principals in these stories maybe aren't in the best of health and I need to get cracking on writing this stuff down. In the comments below, please leave your stories. If you use social media, reach out to me on facebook messenger. If you want to reach out but don't use social media, you can send a personal email to me at email@example.com.