In 1970s, key people got the ball rolling for soccer in Columbia


Howard At Play

May 28, 2000|By Lowell E. Sunderland

You might wonder how Howard County began growing into such a soccer hotbed, especially in and around Columbia, which until the late 1960s wasn't even a brick much less a town pushing 100,000 in population.

This is how.

Blame Dan Bennett, who, his soft Virginia drawl emanating through a Puckish grin, attributes the real reason to "some guys who didn't speak right, because we figured they knew all about soccer."

Understand now, y'all, he intended no insult. Back in 1970 or so, he was simply looking for kids his 14-year-old son could play with. In fact, two of the "guys" he was referring to shared a table with him in a Columbia hotel dining room last weekend, and Bennett's quip had them laughing.

They were Felix Rausch and Bill Sim, by birth, respectively, a Bavarian who landed in Columbia via Alabama and Georgia to work at Social Security, and a Scot who preferred soccer to his auldschool's rugby and, to condense a bunch of years, is now a Potomac Electric Power Co. executive.

All agree that Columbia's soccer explosion got an indispensable boost from Doug Goodsirand several colleagues - Sim among them - sent here from England for a short-lived construction venture called Rouse-Wates in Columbia's earliest days.

And let's not forget the obvious, the initial hundred or so kids who snowballed into more than 7,500 now playing the sport in this county, including the Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County's 5,800 and younger, smaller programs in the county's western and eastern sides.

Bennett, an architect who is 69 and prone to fishing, moved to Columbia from Northern Virginia in 1970. His older son, Danny, had just made a travel soccer team that, suddenly, became an impossible commute. Looking to offset his son's disappointment, Bennett set up a lunch date with Jim Yedlicka, Columbia Association's first recreation director and director of Danny's program in Annandale, Va.

That luncheon at the old Odyssey Restaurant on Columbia's Town Center lakefront led to plans for a soccer clinic. Bennett said he got one brief notice about the clinic published in a then-amateurish newslettercalled the "Columbia Flier," which circulated mainly in the new town's apartments and townhouses. He was amazed when - as he recalls it - about 120 children showed up.

"They came out of the woodwork," he said. "We had no idea there would be so many."

Sim swears that a lost, 8-mm home movie of that clinic, conducted by Goodsir and colleagues, shows a goalkeeper from Wilde Lake named Jim Traber, who also played football and hit a baseball well enough to play a couple seasons for the Orioles.

One adult who came was Rausch, new in town, fresh from having set up a youth league in Georgia. He got involved, and within months, the Soccer Association of Columbia was established. Rausch headed it for its first three years, assisted immensely, he said, by Goodsir.

With Yedlicka providing balls, fields, goals, field-lining and use of trucks, the game took off. Since then, Columbia's system has helpedproduce dozens of top-level college players, one national prep Player of the Year (Todd Haskins), two Olympians (Dante Washington and Clint Peay), abouta dozen pros, and more - no one seems sure how many - who made national teams at various age levels. Five teams have won national age-group championships.

Bennett, Rausch and Sim all coached in the original neighborhood league, each team with a distinctive jersey. Bennett, who said he preferred coaching, later served as SAC co-director for a year or so. In 1975 and 1976, Sim directed the first two Columbia Memorial Day Tournaments.

"If we had known what it would lead to in numbers, we probably wouldn't have done it," said Sim. "It's a remarkable program now, just remarkable."

Bennett and others began choosing travel teams of higher-skilled players to compete occasionally in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Northern Virginia and Canada. That led, in turn, to Columbia teams joining suburban Washington's extensive, competitive travel leagues.

"It was a lot of fun - very satisfying," Bennett said. "I just can't explain what it has meant to see this program grow to what it is from such humble,humblebeginnings. The people who came after us have done such a wonderful job."

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