Growing A New Generation Of Soccer Fans

There was a lot to like at the Staples boys soccer team’s FCIAC championship match last Wednesday.

It was our 3rd straight league title — our 4th in the past 5 years, and 27th in the 48-year history of the FCIAC tournament.

Brendan Lesch and Frankie Bergonzi celebrate Lesch's goal in the FCIAC championship. Their excitement was matched by the fans'. (Photo by Carl McNair)

Our guys gutted out a victory against a tough Fairfield Warde team — particularly gratifying because we started the year with 2 early losses, amid fears we’d lost our focus, passion and pride.

But what was especially exciting to me — as coach I’ve got to look ahead, even in the midst of a satisfying season — was the broad spectrum of ages represented among the 2,000 fans in the Norwalk High stands .

A loud, jubilant contingent from Staples cheered on their friends, of course.  Plenty of parents, too, lent outstanding support.

But there were also soccer alumni from as far back as the 1960s — and so many kids, as young as 6, 8 and 10 years old.

Each “generation” of Staples fans grows up watching older players.  It happened in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and ’00s, and it’s happening now in the ’10s.

Young guys know the Wreckers’ names.  They mimic their heroes’ moves.  They dream of the day they’ll wear the Staples “S.”

But here’s the intriguing part:  Plenty of those kids are the sons of former players — who themselves were once kids, yearning to be Staples stars.

Dan Donovan grew up watching Ken Murphy play.  Andy Udell grew up watching Dan Donovan play.  On Friday night Ken (now the Connecticut College coach) was in the stands.  So were Dan and Andy — and their sons Patrick and Johnny Donovan, and Max Udell.

A few years from now, Patrick, Johnny and Max may take the field for Staples in a championship game.  And (I should live so long) an even younger generation of players — those not yet born — may be there then, dreaming of becoming the next Patrick or Johnny Donovan, or Max Udell.

That’s the ageless magic of Staples soccer.

(The boys soccer team opens it defense of the state championship tomorrow [Monday, Nov. 8], 2 p.m. at Staples.  Sure, it’s during school — but maybe Patrick, Johnny and Max can get out early to watch their heroes play?)

Part of the enormous crowd at the FCIAC finals. Staples fans traditionally wear white -- for a "whiteout" -- at big Wrecker soccer games. (Photo by Carl McNair)

16 responses to “Growing A New Generation Of Soccer Fans

  1. YIKES ! Picked up the Sunday Hour Sports section this Sunday mornnng and looked over the State Soccer pairings, our Staples Champs were nowhere to be found in any bracket Had to check the web site for a reality check on Monday vs West Haven Phewwwww

  2. Congrats on the title, Dan. Wow!

  3. Lucy came to part of a game this season – she loved it!! Littlest fan (she was 11 months at the time)??

  4. Congrats on another title, Dan, and on being part of such a marvelous tradition going all the way back to Albie. Two thousand spectators! Wow! I remember when I was at Staples in the mid-60s, despite superb soccer teams that won a couple of state title while I was there, the games drew maybe 50-100 spectators, at best. Football was king then but soccer had more success. The soccer guys were talented and dedicated and Albie was an excellent coach. That’s when the seeds were planted and now the tree is full-grown. I hope the Dude checks into this thread because he played on those teams……TA ’66

  5. And I watched you guys. I remember FCIAC games in Wilton. Bauman’s long kicks. Now I watch my daughter. A sport like this is a gift for a lifetime.

  6. Congrats to coaches Dan, Kurt, Tom, and the players–especially the seniors–for winning your third consecutive county title. The FCIAC is a very competitive league in soccer; so to walk off the field on Wed night with your third championship in a row–outright no less– is an impressive accomplishment in the world of high school sports, and in the annals of Staples soccer.

    I did not know that the Dude Abides played in the mid-sixties! And that means he might have been one of the players who inspired me, because I was one of those spectators on the hill back then, watching my brother, Marc, play (although Tom, I do recall sometimes having much bigger crowds, especially when McMahon was the opposing team).

    So, Dude Abides–would you be willing to email me at canfre@yahoo.com? I promise not to reveal your identity. Thanks

  7. Fred, I remember your brother Marc. ’67, right? Little guy. Very good athlete. He was friendly with my gf of the day, Leslie Herrschaft ’67. Yes, Dude played with your brother for a couple of years before earning a combination soccer/golf scholarship. Missed his entire senior year in ’65 with a broken collar bone and was also a fine baseball infielder. Soccer stars were Murray Rosenberg, Dennis Colochico, Paul Heath, Mike Gerstle, Jon Morley, Eric Weichmann, Jeff Hand, etc. County and state champs and, yes, the crowds on the hill for the McMahon games were big for my three years there. We watched the games from our football practice field which was next to the soccer field. Great teams. Courteous, too. Most of the soccer guys waited for the football team to shower before cleaning up. Rosenberg, who was all-FCIAC and all-state in ’65, tells me they were afraid of us. btw my college roommate and close friend for the ensuing several decades until his passing in ’06 as a Westport resident was the goalie of those BMcM teams. I’ll forward your email address to the Dude. He’s actually a very nice guy and really is an oft-published novelist after a long career as a TX atty.

  8. The Dude Abides

    Well, thanks Dan and Tom for making me feel guilty for missing the game. Congratulations! Mr. Loeffler is proud! On a sidenote, the “New York Times” reported that 17,000+ fans attended a recent UCLA-UC-Santa Barbara soccer match. And over 35 Division I schools are averaging 1,000 fans a game. Perhaps the day of soccer has arrived! Nice to see the crowd in Norwalk. I will be there “on the Hill” Monday for the game despite my continued anxiety over memories of running that damn hill in practice and more times than not, hurling my cookies on the way down. Mr. Loeffler would just stand there twirling those keys in his left hand and smirk. But what a great coach. Glad to see his current successor has much the same success and good natured character. Go Wreckers!!!

    • Dude: I will be on the hill as well, sitting at the very top in a brown leather jacket and a blue S baseball cap–the one we got at the field naming ceremony for Albie Loeffler in 1998. I fully expect you to stop by and say hello! And Tom, you do remember my brother–he was the athlete in our family. As for me, well Coach Loeffler once famously commented at practice: “Fred, I have come to the conclusion that you have two speeds: slow, and slower.” Loved his humor!

  9. The Dude Abides

    Fred: I will, indeed, stop by. I will be the guy who looks like Brad Pitt.
    I did play with your brother and he was an excellent athlete. It should be remembered that we had very little exposure to soccer in the 60’s prior to high school. I do not remember any Pop Warner or PAL leagues. Perhaps an occassional PE class. It makes Mr. Loeffler’s efforts that more amazing. Professor Woog reminds me that Mr. Loeffler called him the “Keith Gog” of his ’69-’70 teams. Keith was the “pit bull” of our teams and we played a tough brand of soccer compared with the natural ability of McMahon or Weathersfield. I reminded the Professor recently that Keith became a very successful male model and was on the can of Right Guard as well as many national advertisements. The Wooger just smiled. As my publicist Tommy Allen has pointed out, I was sidelined my senior year with a broken collar bone. I sat next to Mr. Loeffler during the games. He never got excited but would often talk to himself. Forever the wise ass, I would often times say: “What was that Coach?” or “Say what?” knowing full well that he was just letting off steam. In an away game against Rippowam, he finally turned to me and said: “Does your mother know you have diarrhea of the mouth?”
    I loved the guy. He went out of his way to get me a “ride” to college too. I know he would be very proud of Dan Woog as his successor and this very talented group of players representing Staples this day. It is a grand tradition.

  10. Tania Glatzer

    I was not there unfortunately, but I am so proud of my son in law Dan Donavan for all his participation…he is truly a big fan and also a soccer coach for the little guys, including my grandson whom I have watched and in amazement kicks goals over heads into the little goals..so exciting and I know he will be in the number one team when he gets older he is currently 6 and three quarters….

  11. Remarkable.

  12. The Dude Abides

    Fred: There were fourteen guys there with “S” Caps and leather jackets. Were you the one driving a convertible? Big Win regardless. Congrats Woogful Wreckers.

    • Dude, I was looking for you. (And I did have a convertible back in 1969-71, the Triumph Herald 1200 station car I got to use!). I think I was the only one there today with the Albie Loeffler Ceremony S hat, but I guess they are tough to distinguish from the newer models. We will have to connect at one of these games, although, unfortunately, it looks like I can’t be there Thursday. (Do you have silver hair, cut very short?)

  13. The Dude Abides

    Will be in Bemuda the rest of this week. I have been accused of being a silver tongued devil but still dirty blond flyaway hair. I am the one on the bike with the Harvard sweatshirt yelling “GO WRECKERS!!” It sure worked today.

    • Well then I definitely did not see you. We will have to try again after you return from fun in the sun.