Three score as Blast's 1st Hall of Fame members

Team honoring Cooper, Stamenkovic, Stankovic

Soccer

November 26, 2003|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

A wizard, a magician and an enforcer will be the first inductees into the Blast Hall of Fame.

Former coach Kenny Cooper, Stan Stamenkovic and Mike Stankovic, three of the most important figures in the Blast's creation and emergence as a champion, are the honorees, the club announced yesterday.

They will be honored during a ceremony at 1st Mariner Arena on Jan. 10, when the Blast faces the Dallas Sidekicks. Cooper, Stankovic and their families will be present.

Blast general manager Kevin Healey said the team, with the help of Stankovic, is in touch with the late Stamenkovic's son, Nebojsa, a 21-year-old soccer player who lives in Serbia.

"We've asked Mike to communicate with Nebojsa to see if it is possible for him to come here in January," said Healey, noting Stamenkovic's son has asked about the possibility of a tryout with the Blast.

"The best scenario would be for him to come to take part in the ceremony honoring his dad and then staying for a two-week tryout."

"The Hall of Fame is a long time in the making," said Blast owner Ed Hale. "And these three deserve to be the first inductees and forever remembered."

Hale said the hall will be housed in the main lobby of the 17-story business tower he is building at 1st Mariner Bank on Clinton Street.

Cooper came to Baltimore in 1980 and was the team's chief architect. He coached the original Blast from 1980 through 1992 and then continued to coach the team when it became the Spirit of the National Professional Soccer League for another two years.

Cooper led the Blast to five division titles, five league finals appearances and to the franchise's first Major Indoor Soccer League championship in 1983-84. He also earned two MISL Coach of the Year awards.

"I'm tremendously humbled by this," Cooper said from his office in Dallas, where he now lives. Repeating the names of a number of players, local politicians, celebrities and media members, Cooper said: "We worked together to build a love affair, and for me it was a passion. We built a team that was, for a while, a machine."

Stamenkovic was called "The Magician" because of the magic he worked with the ball. The lumbering star mesmerized opposing players with his toe and heel work to the tune of 329 points in 179 Blast games, becoming the team's original all-time leading scorer.

A six-year veteran of the league, Stamenkovic was a four-time all-star, a three-time Blast Most Valuable Player and the MVP of the 1983-84 championship season. He died in an accident in 1996, at age 39, at his home in Serbia.

"I was, as you know, pretty close to Stan," Stankovic said. "He was very sensitive and soft, an unbelievable guy - but inside of him he had a big desire to win. He always looked at the game as fun, but it wasn't always easy for him to accept the fans or a city.

"He was shy, didn't look like a soccer player and maybe that made him a little uncomfortable. But he said the only city he wanted to play in was Baltimore. For him to say that showed how much he loved it here."

Stankovic, who came to the United States from Yugoslavia in 1977 as a musician and to Baltimore four years later, earned six trips to the MISL All-Star Game.

He was the team's intimidating force and a scoring threat. Coming out of the back with a big, strong kick, Stankovic produced 301 points to rank third on the team's all-time scoring list. Stankovic, 47, a Baltimore area resident, retired five years ago after spending the last several years of his career as a player/coach for the Spirit.

Blast tonight

Matchup: Blast (5-3) vs. St. Louis Steamers (2-4)

Site: The Family Arena, St. Louis

Time: 8:35

Radio: WCBM (680 AM)

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