My 15 Minutes

I often give shout-outs to Westporters who land in the New York Times. It’s nice to celebrate those random, local-national connections.

But that’s it: A link on “06880,” a brief description of the story, then it’s on to the next post.

Last Sunday, I was the Westporter in the Times.  And despite all the hand-wringing about the current state of journalism — print and online — one thing is certain: the New York Times still has juice.

Staples' Dylan Evans (right), in one of the many exciting moments from Staples' 2011 season. (Photo/Carl McNair)

A few days earlier, I’d been interviewed by a sports reporter. The subject seemed arcane: Several years ago the governing body of American soccer organized a new, highest-tier form of youth teams (the “Development Academy”). Recently they lengthened those teams’ seasons to 10 months, and decreed that Academy players can no longer play for their high school teams.

The Times turned to me — the Staples High School boys soccer coach, with a few Academy players on our roster — for insights.

We talked for 45 minutes. I knew that much of what I said would land on the editing floor; I hoped what survived would be pithy, helpful — or at least not inane.

I had no idea when the piece would run.

On Saturday afternoon, I started getting emails. “Saw your quote in the Times!” they said. “Nice job!”

The story had been posted online — 15 minutes earlier. I have no idea how so many people found it so quickly, but I was not complaining.

I was mentioned briefly — only 4 paragraphs’ worth.

Dan Woog, the boys soccer coach at Staples High School in Westport, Conn., recalled the night his team won a league championship several years ago and a group of players showed up at a diner afterward with their championship medals around their necks.

Suddenly, the other customers in the diner — a majority of them Westport residents — stood up and spontaneously gave the players a standing ovation. The players beamed.

The 2009 FCIAC champs -- before the medals were awarded.

“They’re going to remember that the rest of their lives,” Woog said. “They felt like kings. That’s not going to happen in the academy.”

Woog added: “We should be in the business of letting kids be kids. Not forcing them into thinking they’re going to be playing for Arsenal or Manchester United two years from now.”

Fortunately, that was the money quote.

Dozens of people emailed me. Many appreciated what I said; a few took issue. The debate — mirroring one that’s gone on all over the country — was taking shape.

Then came Sunday morning.

The story ran on the front page of the sports section — above the fold. The headline — “High School Players Forced to Choose in Soccer’s New Way” — attracted attention from millions of readers. Soccer fans, anyone with a connection to high school, even people with no skin in the game — all seemed intrigued by the story. After all, it has ramifications for athletes in many other sports, and discussed side issues like competition, education, and adolescent development.

Then the blitz really began.

By late morning, over 150 comments had been posted on the Times website.

The 2011 team, in a typical high school pose. (Photo/Carl McNair)

I’d received at least as many emails and phone calls. They came from former athletes, dimly remembered ex-Stapleites who recognized my name, current players, parents of current and ex-players, and Westporters who were simply excited to read my name in the paper.

Most of those who contacted me directly agreed with what I said. That’s natural.

The Times page was filled with diverse opinions. Early comments favored the Academy approach; later, they became 50-50. A few people wrote so obtusely, I wondered if they read any part of the story at all.

Then the media descended. I gave a number of interviews to other papers, blogs and outlets. All of a sudden, the Times story became national news.

Just as quickly, of course, it subsided. By yesterday, the American soccer world (and the media that covers it) had moved on to other topics. I was old news.

Someone else was enjoying his or her 15 minutes of fame.

And I’m left to wonder, still, about Academy teams, high school soccer, and kids walking into the Sherwood Diner with championship medals around their necks.

(Click here to read the entire Times story.)

A small portion of a large crowd at a Staples soccer championship match.

19 responses to “My 15 Minutes

  1. It never occurred to me to wear that the medal since ours came without a ribbon. CONGRATS, Wooger. I am glad your thoughts were accurately conveyed by The Times but I am even happier that I had the opportunity to have you as a coach. I am also happy for you that your recognition was in print form, your medium. 15 minutes is nothing to snub. 15 minutes is extensive for many. You used to be one of Westport’s best kept secrets. Thanks Coach.

  2. wasn’t meant to be anon. robsweets.

  3. Richard Lawrence Stein

    Dan you have always been one to hold your own tongue or silent in tooting your own horn when it comes to your accomplishes. Enjoy the glow. Enjoy the fact that you got to show off your 06880 to the rest of the world in an area that you hold dearly. Better yet you showed in one blurb the import of town, team, recognition, support, and a memory that will be held for all who were there. (disclosure I am involved with the staples program)

  4. Dan, I guess my real concern is whether or not the original issue became old news. Has the soccer world moved on from that too — any insight on the future outlook for High School Soccer at this point in the discussion?

    • Our players are still trying to figure out what they’re going to do this fall. They love the high school experience, but they feel they need to play Academy soccer because of college coaches.

      Whatever the outcome, we’ll continue to try to provide a welcoming, family experience for whoever works hard and makes our team; we’ll continue to try to help each player maximize his soccer potential, and grow as a human being on and off and the field; we’ll continue to be competitive, to have fun, to excite our school and community, and to honor the legacy of the many great players and their families who have been part of Staples soccer for 53 years.

  5. Jack Whittle

    Speaking one’s mind, when married with sound reasoning based on direct personal experience, always advances the discussion – money quote indeed, I still bemoan the loss of sports teams at the middle school level (where all manner of travel teams have filled the void) for basically the same reason – sports team experience is the most rewarding when accompanied by school (or even town) spirit and allegiance.

    Great job Dan (again!)

    • THANKS, Jack. When I tell players about junior high sports — with the intense Bedford-Coleytown-Long Lots rivalries, and and the great competition with Darien, Greenwich and New Canaan junior high teams — in soccer, football, basketball, wrestling, baseball, track, softball and field hockey — they can’t even begin to conceive what that was like.

    • Jack, one of the things I learned most about the junior high sports experience is the rapid shift in thinking: one year a guy you play against is an arch-rival and enemy and the next year he’s a valued teammate and a close friend. robsweets

  6. And a well deserved fifteen minutes of fame if I must say…

  7. Congrats to Dan, and I really hope that the conflict between academy soccer and high school soccer can be resolved so that a player can participate in both. I know that, as a Staples soccer alum, I feel I had the opportunity to be part of something special–and I know that many Staples soccer alumni share that same sense of pride.

    That pride is rooted not only in having participated in a high school program with a tradition of excellence, although that obviously plays an important role.  Staples’ record speaks for itself: 12 state championships, 27 county titles, 8 NSCAA Team Academic Awards since 1999, alumni going on to play at roughly 75 different colleges (including more than a dozen Staples players who were part of varsity college teams this past fall).

    But, beyond that record of excellence is a passion for the game that is an integral part of the Staples soccer experience–something that was started by the legendary coach, Albie Loeffler, in 1958 and that is perhaps best reflected by the involvement of alumni in soccer long past the glory of competitive playing days.

    From my era alone, Steve Baumann went on to become a head coach at the University of Pennsylvania and recently was the chief executive of the National Soccer Hall of Fame, Larry McFaddin co-founded the long-running Lake Placid Soccer Centre, Mark Brickley worked in the marketing department of the New York Cosmos when pro soccer had its first breakthrough in this country, Tim and Paul Hunter had successful coaching stints after playing professional soccer, and, just this past fall, Scott McNeill was named Coach of the Year by the Pennsylvania State Soccer Coaches Association.  Last, but not least, Dan Woog won awards as a soccer writer before ultimately returning as head coach of the Staples varsity. (And others remained involved in various ways behind the scenes.)  

    Mark Noonan, Staples ’83, who was Executive VP of Marketing for Major League Soccer before becoming head of a sports marketing company, and Kyle Martino, Staples ’99, the former Major League Soccer Rookie of the Year who was just named lead TV analyst for NBC Sports’ coverage of MLS games, are just two more recent prominent examples of the perpetuation of this passion.

    And, what makes it even more special is that alumni such as Mark and Kyle have come back to Staples at the start of pre-season practices to lend a hand (or, perhaps a foot would be more accurate) and thus to help out in reinforcing that passion for the game for the newest generation of players.

    I know there are a variety of reasons to feel fortunate having grown up in Westport and, for me, one of the real privileges was to have had the opportunity to be part of the Staples soccer community.   

  8. Nancy Powers Conklin

    Dan, so happy for you. You certainly deserve any and all recognition for the job you do, as humbly and quietly as you do it! Staples is so fortunate to have an alumnus like you to take the reins of the Staples Soccer program after so many successful years under Coach Loeffler! Continue with the integrity and humility which you exhibit every year! You are so deserving of so much more than this article shared.

  9. Wow! Sounds like your fame lasted more than 15 minutes! Good for you!

  10. The Dude Abides

    Two points: It amazes me the number of reporters at the NYTimes. While other papers resort to AP or Reuters (or in the case of the Post, CNN TV), the Times actually sends out their own reporters.
    The McEnroe brothers are an example of the diverse opinions regarding developmental schooling versus regular programs. Patrick, thanks to backing from USTA has established a developmental program-school that is hoped will bring back some tennis champions to the USA. John has a complete opposite view for he played soccer and tennis in high school and feels the “well-rounded” approach is far better. Tennis, like soccer, is under the gun to start producing winners.
    Speaking of winners, the Times found one in you. Glad you made the Andy Warhol fabulous fifteen!!!!

  11. The article mentioned but did not explore the problem of playing styles (though why they thought the substitution rules mattered, I can’t imagine). Young football and basketball players can see their idols on TV, and their coaches often talk about “pro style” tactics. Young soccer players don’t get to see enough of the soccer stars, and many of the HS and college coaches don’t teach “the beautiful game”. They teach power and speed, with little care for ball control in the midfield. As a referee, I have observed many high school age travel teams, and wonder where the skill that they possessed as middle-schoolers disappeared to. I have coached a HS age travel team, and many of my player’s parents despaired of the HS coach’s methods. I’ve never seen any Staples games, so I can’t comment on Woog’s success. But I reffed some of his players when they were younger, and I can say that some of his best players are not the biggest or fastest, so it’s likely that he’s doing something right, besides winning.
    The NBA and NFL can depend on HS and college coaches to prepare the young players for the big leagues. Until the MLS can do the same, the “academy” approach will continue to be explored.

    • Thanks, Laz. Interestingly, our high school players do watch an enormous amount of international soccer. They’re extremely knowledgeable about a variety of players – they are true students of the game.

      And they play a ton of FIFA (video games), which believe it or not also teaches tactics beyond speed and power!

  12. Josh Barlett

    Our own Frank Deford argues that the huge amount of money spent on soccer should have been spent on lacrosse. USA is under pressure to win and it appears the developmental schools/teams is their first step?

  13. First Dan your comments, in my opinion, were right on! As a former hockey coach I had/have an additional concern which hasn’t been discussed. As all these sports focus on those with “elite talent”, what happens to those who just miss the cut or those who love the sport but may not have the opportunity to play with those who can teach them by example. In hockey if we were lucky enough to have four or five better players we were winners and the whole team felt better for it. Winning isn’t everything but always losing isn’t helpful. The focus should be on what young people can learn from team sports and not the interests of a few with exceptional talent.