Albie Loeffler — the founder of the Staples soccer program — died peacefully this morning at his home in Oxford, North Carolina. Active and independent until breaking his hip earlier this summer, he would have been 94 years old tomorrow.
Mr. Loeffler — no player, and few alumni, ever called him “Albie” — retired with a then-national record 314 wins. His teams won 13 league championships and 7 state titles. Over 175 of his players went on to play college soccer.
Mr. Loeffler also coached basketball, baseball and track at Staples, and is a member of the United States Soccer Hall of Fame as a referee. One of the premier soccer officials in the nation, he refereed the very 1st NCAA Division I finals.
Mr. Loeffler arrived at Staples in 1952, already a highly regarded coach. In 1957 he heeded the requests of several students — who had played soccer in elementary and junior high school — to form a high school team. The club became a varsity squad the following year.
Despite his many other accomplishments — including serving as a headmaster at Staples — his 20 years as Staples soccer coach defined him for the rest of his life. His quiet demeanor — he indicated anger by slowly picking up grass and throwing it into the wind — and dry sense of humor were hallmarks of his soccer coaching career, though his basketball and baseball players remember a more vocal side.
Personally — having played for Mr. Loeffler, been encouraged by him to become a youth coach, then proudly becoming only the 3rd permanent head soccer coach in Staples’ 51-year history — I will remember another side of him. We spoke at least once a month since his retirement 31 years ago; I visited him in North Carolina and Vermont. As incisive as his soccer mind was, our best conversations involved politics, history and life in general.
The last time we talked — a couple of weeks ago — we discussed President Obama (Mr. Loeffler’s politics were very progressive), the economy, and changes in Westport over the years. Then he asked about Staples’ upcoming team. He wanted to know how well they’d do, what obstacles they faced — and he encouraged me to hold them to the highest standards, on and off the field.
When Mr. Loeffler retired in 1978, he was a 2-time National Coach of the Year. His teams had recorded 25 consecutive shutouts; gone 43 straight games without a loss; lost just 2 home games in the entire stretch between 1965 and 1975 (including post-season play) — and won the division championship every single year.
In 1998 the Staples soccer field was named Albie Loeffler Field. Mr. Loeffler attended the ceremony, and spoke about the impact soccer and Westport had had on his life. He did not attend Staples’ 50th celebration last September, but his presence was felt by all.
The Staples soccer community — all of Staples, in fact — has lost a legend. None of us who love Staples soccer would be here today without his quiet leadership and determined vision. He created something that has positively impacted thousands of lives directly, and tens of thousands more indirectly. I would not be who I am had I not known Albie Loeffler — and I know countless others say exactly the same thing.
(For more information on the early days of Staples soccer, go to http://www.Staplessoccer.com; then click “History” from the tab above.)