Soccer success: It takes a village

By Pete Palen
The 2008 high school boys’ soccer season was a special one. It was marked by excellent play by all our area boys’ teams. The Andes Mountaineers fielded one of their strongest teams in years, had a winning season, and were a formidable opponent. The Roxbury Rockets were in the hunt for the Delaware Mountain Championship right up to the final week of the season. Margaretville and South Kortright were crowned Upper Delaware and Delaware Mountain Champs, respectively. The Blue Devils and Rams then played their way to the Section IV, Class D Championship game at The Soccer Hall of Fame complex in Oneonta, where Kortright was crowned champion in a hard-fought match. Likewise, The Delhi Bulldogs culminated a two- season run of 36-2 with their first Section IV, Class C Championship.
The high caliber of soccer play that typified our area’s boys’ teams this season is not a fluke, or a magic trick done with smoke and mirrors. The excellent play and achievement is the result of local, community soccer programs. It takes a village.
Throughout my years of coaching boys’ varsity soccer at Margaretville Central School, occasionally I’d be asked by an opposing team’s coach, parent, or fan: “How come Margaretville is always competitive, year in and year out?” I’d invariably answer with a question: “Does your town have a youth soccer program?”
That’s the key. Once success in soccer, or any other high school team sport is established, the little kids look to grow-up to be like the big kids. A community soccer program gives the little kids that opportunity. By the time the little kids got to me as big kids at the varsity level, we were able to focus on putting a team together and work on more sophisticated strategies than my cherished wedge trap. Community soccer programs that have the commitment of parents and interested adults, and encourage participation, teach fundamentals, while emphasizing the fun of the game make it happen. It takes a village.
Margaretville pioneered our area’s community soccer almost 35 years ago. I began coaching boys’ varsity soccer at MCS in 1971 and by 1973 we had achieved a modicum of success in winning The Upper Delaware League Championship and advancing to the Section IV, Class D final, where we were bested in a hard-fought match at Oneonta State by Cincinnatus. Enter George Stevens. George was a former world-class soccer player for The Czechoslovakian National Team who settled in Margaretville with his wife Eva and two young sons, Paul and Dennis in the early 1970s. George’s love and respect for soccer soon led him to begin the first community youth soccer program in Margaretville around 1975. Some of the “little kids” George worked with in that inaugural class were: his son, Paul, as well as Rocky Wilson, Dane Hamway, Bob Robinson, Mike Fitzgerald, Jon and Tim George, among others, all who became “big kids” and starters for our first Section IV Championship team in 1979. The soccer ball in Margaretville youth soccer was off and rolling into the 1980s,’90s, and into the 21st century.
The list of people who have been instrumental in the ongoing success of Margaretville youth soccer through the years is long. Apologies to anyone inadvertently overlooked, as there are many who have chipped in through the years, coaching here and teaching there. A partial role call of Margaretville youth soccer contributors over the decades is comprised of: Don Ruff and Anthony Bove, who always found roster spots on the Margaretville Soccer Town Team of the 1970s and ’80s for our high school boys, Don Bramley and Rick Osterhoudt who championed the youth program at Fleischmanns in the 1990s, Toni Smith, Larry Wickham, Njego Pesa, Randy Moore, Glen Faulkner, Max Mead, Eric Fronckowiak, Missy Hull, Rob Bond, James Meehan, Abbie Rosa, Ken Taylor, Jeff Reither, all of whom committed substantial time and energy to work with and coach our area youth in soccer.
How far does the influence of Margaretville’s commitment to youth soccer reach beyond Margaretville’s soccer success this year? An interesting sidebar to the 2008 achievements of area boys’ high school soccer teams can be seen in the roster of Margaretville youth soccer “graduates” who achieved great things at surrounding schools. The Meehan brothers, Zach, Avery, and Nick were key contributors to Delhi’s two-year won-loss record of 36-2 that culminated in a 2008 Section IV Championship. Brandon Lane, a 2007 starter for the MCS Blue Devils in soccer, anchored Cooperstown’s defense at sweeper in 2008 and was an all league selection. And finally, Josh Bonafacic, another 2007 starter for MCS, this year was the stellar goalie for the hard charging Andes Mountaineers.
May the roll of the soccer ball continue to be lucky and favor Margaretville area youth for years to come in the commitment of our community’s parents and fans to youth soccer. It takes a village.
Pete Palen served as the head coach of the Margaretville Central School boys’ varsity soccer team for 34 years. He remains one of the winningest coaches in New York State with 437 career wins.