by Matt Kupec
November 1, 2018
I need your help!
This will be one of the most gut wrenching blog posts I will ever write! Today, I will give in and admit that a prediction made by Jimmy Wolf during our Syosset High School years that “soccer would become more popular than football within ten years” might have come true!
The setting is Syosset High School in the mid-1970’s. Syosset is riding the wave of great football success under Coach John Miller. Lopsided wins become a weekly occasion and players like Kevin Mannix, Jack Miravel, Ken Bailey, Don Perfall and I were named to All-State teams. Home games in 1973 & 1974 against rival Farmingdale draw some 10,000 people to each game. A football banner recognizing the 1974 team as the #1 team in New York is hung in the gym. Football is king, at least in my eyes!
One of my best friends in high school was named Jimmy Wolf. Jimmy was smart, hardworking, athletic and very competitive. Jimmy had an infectious personality and was very popular. Jimmy was also a star soccer player at Syosset HS.
Back in those days, the soccer team played its home games on a field right outside of the high school, pretty much of a temporary field. Games were played during the weeks with small turnouts. Due to the games being played mid-week the football guys had the chance to watch of couple of games. Jim Hanophy was another friend and a star player as well so we would support the soccer team.
But Jimmy Wolf, in his competitive and somewhat confrontational way, would always tell me that “within 10 years soccer would be more popular than football.” You can imagine my responses to Jimmy’s claims. “Not a chance,” I would boost with my head held high as football was so popular in our school and the nation. “Soccer will never become more popular than football,” I would growl at Jimmy as he kept repeating his soccer claims.
But today, I am here to say to Jimmy Wolf may be right! This conclusion has been gnawing at me for years as I knew we were headed there but I just didn’t want to acknowledge the fact that a sport so popular in the rest of the world would become more popular than football in America. I love football and think it’s the greatest team sport of all! There was also a toughness that came with putting on the pads and the helmet and then battling on the field. And football seemed to be such a great community builder. But, things have been changing.
Jimmy may argue that the soccer train left the station some 25 years ago!
But what has made me consider throwing in the towel and conceding that a sport that was once considered the “s” word in my house – a home with 5 boys who all played football – would become the choice sport of millions of young children in our country?
Here are a few random thoughts of mine on the rise of soccer. I’d love to hear your comments and additional thoughts. Please soccer devotees don’t get mad at me for this article as I am giving you the credit that you deserve today!
- My son Matthew is a high school football player. I am witnessing up close the football problem. Last year, Matthew’s East Chapel Hill High School was not able to field enough players to have a varsity team! And his high school is a fairly big 3A Conference sized school in NC! We had an 8th grade team, a 9th grade team, and junior varsity and varsity teams. Matthew’s high school could just field one team! This year they had enough players but there is considerable talk that next year they may not again have enough players for a team and Matthew’s senior year may be without football.
- Other High Schools Are Facing the Similar Football Problem. In Chapel Hill alone this year the crosstown rivals Chapel Hill HS did not have enough players to field a team. Two years ago, another local high school was not able to field a team. Last week, The New Times ran a story titled, “Across New Jersey, the Friday Night Lights Grow Dimmer” as more and more high schools are dropping football.
- Concussions and Other Injuries. Football is a very rough contact sport. Player safety is taking precedent and that is a good thing. I think back to how many concussions I had and in those years you went right back into the game as a sign of toughness. Concussion protocol forced Matthew to miss his first three high school games this year.
- A Big Positive with Soccer’s Popularity. One of the great consequences of soccer’s popularity has been the increased participation of girls in youth soccer programs and the additional opportunities it has created for them. I was working at UNC when Mia Hamm had here incredible run in growing the popularity of women’s soccer and saw the immense positive impact it has had for girls throughout our country.
- Soccer Youth Participation. Soccer’s popularity at the youth level has grown dramatically since my high school years but it is seeing a decline right now. Basketball and baseball still remain the top choices of sport for youth participation.
- One of the Greatest Speeches Ever. I was attending the College Football Foundation College Hall of Fame dinner in New York years ago and it is a “who’s who” of college football elite. This particular night, former SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer was being honored and in his acceptance speech he told a story, one that rings near and dear to the heart of all football loyalists. Kramer said, “I was driving in Alabama the other day and came to a red light. As I looked out the window I saw thousands of kids playing soccer and I said to myself that is what is wrong with America!” You can only imagine the thunderous standing ovation that occurred as the attendees jumped to their feet in agreement!
- The Soccer Socks. As much as I’m willing to concede soccer’s popularity, I just can’t take those high soccer socks! It is a look I will never get comfortable with!! I know there are shin pads and the like but the look just isn’t right!!!
So, are congratulations in order for Jimmy Wolf or not?! Soccer is indeed a much more popular sport in American today than it was 40 years ago. But has it passed football in terms of popularity and participation?
Please let me know your thoughts either here or send them through my contact page at mattkupecqb.com.