Ex-high school players enjoy a soccer reunion

PLAYING AROUND

Howard at Play

September 19, 2004|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

HE'S NOW ATHLETIC director at a desert school in Rancho Mirage, Calif., but Rich Ryerson (Oakland Mills High, 1983) flew back east for a celebratory dinner and an old-timers soccer game.

Larry Friend (Wilde Lake, '80), helping coach women's soccer at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., came east to play for less than two hours, too.

Others traveled in from Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, and elsewhere in California. More came up from Virginia, down from Harlem and suburban Philadelphia and from all over Central Maryland.

"It was awesome to play again with my friends, guys I grew up with," said Ryerson, 39. "I also met guys I'd looked up to when I was playing, and I met some who told me they'd looked up to me. ... It was good to be part of it."

All told, about 40 men and 20 women traveled here to play last weekend as the Soccer Association of Columbia-Howard County formally dedicated its new Northrop Fields at Covenant Park.

Call us a bit romantic, but a banquet Sept. 10 followed the next night by men's and women's old-timers games on a soccer-perfect evening might also have marked a rebirth for SAC-HC.

For something unusually good happened that weekend. It was especially evident between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. that Saturday, under the lights at the new complex off Centennial Lane, when the women played an eight-versus-eight match and then men opted to extend their game by five minutes, they were enjoying it so much.

During those games, watched by nearly 400 spectators, there surfaced a club with longer-lasting loyalty, continuity, and deeper roots than many ever suspected. Seeing all the smiles and handshakes, and hearing the swapping of phone numbers and e-mail addresses, you could feel a renewed sense of belonging, of community.

On Thursday, Karen Gonya Nickles, who played at Centennial High and helped organize the women's game, referred to the evening as "magical."

Those two games almost screamed out that soccer - and SAC-HC - endow a lot of lives with sustainable value far beyond wins and losses, even though the players were mostly in their 30s and 40s, the coaches older. Some players had their own kids cheering for them.

Among the men competing once again in SAC-HC uniforms were four former Olympic men's team players, 11 who represented the United States internationally at any level, 17 who played pro ball outdoors and five indoors, 16 all-Americans at any level, many who now coach (three in college), and several with soccer-related businesses.

Dante Washington, near the end of a pro career, once a scoring scourge at Oakland Mills, the second leading scorer all-time among NCAA Division I schools, put away three more goals. Clint Peay, an Oakland Mills graduate with titles at every stop between club ball and Major League Soccer, dressed impulsively at halftime to play a few minutes in borrowed cleats despite permanent knee damage that prematurely ended his pro career.

Desmond Armstrong, who stood out on so-so teams at Howard High and Maryland but retired with 81 caps from representing the United States in world play, was one of the fittest players there; he is the only SAC-HC alumnus to play in a World Cup. Darryl Gee, who jumped from Oakland Mills High to the internationally known New York Cosmos, played sweeper.

Todd Haskins, national high school Player of the Year at Howard, showed a bit more flash, as did Steve Sietsema, another Howard standout.

The men's teams included Kevin Sloan, now a pro indoor assistant coach in Philadelphia, Malcolm Gillian, Ryerson and his brother Rob, Darryl Simpkins, all from Oakland Mills ... Doug Majewski, Eric Hawkes and Brock Yetso (Centennial) ... Dan Beyers, Glenn Cadenhead (Wilde Lake) ... Derek Phillips (Atholton) and more names familiar to anyone who's followed soccer locally since the 1970s.

Women from 1980s and 1990s teams played, among them: Gretchen Speir Meyers (Centennial), Beth Heydt Schoor (Oakland Mills), sisters Laura Carlan Thompson and Lynda Carlan Ulmer (Hammond), and Julie Kapcala (Atholton).

"You know, they're all kids again, at least for 15 minutes," said Bill Stara, who has guided high school teams here to 12 state championships and also is SAC-HC's coaching director. He watched the men's game with Al Goldstein, a coaching mentor and the man who built Oakland Mills' boys into a powerhouse.

And to think, said another coach, Bill Sim, who spent the entire men's game grinning on the sidelines, "When this club started, [co-founder] Felix Rausch and I used to go to the Columbia Association in pickup trucks each Saturday, get nets and supplies to line the field, and then we'd go, do the lines, coach a game and referee three more."

Never, Sim agreed, could anyone in 1970 have envisioned that on a Saturday 34 years later, SAC-HC old-timers from across the nation might compete under lights at an eight-field, $5 million complex that serves more than 6,000 players.

Those old-timers, by the way, quickly told club administrators they want to play again next year at Covenant Park - home.

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