Published on May 28th, 2018 | by Staples Soccer3
Fred Cantor ’71 Meets His ’65 Idols
Fred Cantor ’71 writes:
Very few of us get the opportunity to hang out with and say thank you to athletes who inspired us when we were kids. For those fortunate enough to do it, the opportunity probably arises at some charity event such as a golf fundraiser featuring long-retired professional athletes.
But for me, some of the most inspirational athletes back in the 1960s were local guys who weren’t pro or even college stars — they happened to play high school soccer at Staples.
This was an era long before Pele had come from Brazil to play for the New York Cosmos. Soccer was not yet an integral part of youth sports around the country. I had never played it or even seen a soccer game until we moved to Westport and my older brother Marc, a very talented athlete, became a member of the Staples squad in 1964.
I quickly became a soccer fan, thanks in large part to the successful program that coach Albie Loeffler had built up in a short period of time.
In the fall of 1965, when I was a 7th grader at the brand new Coleytown Junior High, which started up its own 8th-9th grade varsity soccer team, I began thinking: “Maybe this is something I could do.” I was short and thin, so traditional American sports such as football and basketball were probably out of the question for me.
But what really cemented it for me was watching the Staples team play in what turned out to be a magical season.
They won game after game with an entertaining style of play. During the regular season, in front of a huge crowd, they upset undefeated archrival Brien McMahon 3-1, on a couple of late goals by leading scorer Willy Shaeffer. McMahon’s closest game prior to that loss was, incredibly, a 3-0 victory.
The athletes on the Staples soccer team seemed larger than life to me. As I sat on the hill enthralled with their play in the fall of ‘65, I imagined what it would be like to score a winning goal for Staples.
That feeling was reinforced at the FCIAC championship game in New Canaan. Despite having a perfect 12-0 record Staples was the underdog against McMahon, whose 2 leading scorers would go on to become college All-Americans. The game was a thrilling back-and-forth affair. Staples once again emerged victorious, on a goal in the final minutes.
When the final whistle blew, I ran out on the field and joined in the joyous celebration. For a 12-year-old fan, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Fast forward to the Staples class of ‘66 50th reunion in August 2016. I decided to go to the Sunday morning event at Compo to see who was there from that fabled ‘65 team, to tell them how much they inspired me. I saw 2 players: Murray Rosenberg ‘66 and Doug Lee ‘67 (attending with a member of ‘66). I chatted with both. They were great guys. The only jarring moment was seeing that Murray and I were now the same height! Both seemed pleased to learn that their team helped start me down the path of playing soccer.
But I missed seeing one of the stars of that team who was back for the reunion.
Now, almost 2 years later Murray, who lives in Los Angeles, said he had a surprise for me (he had learned I have a short-term rental in Orange County). It turned out that the star player I missed at the ‘66 reunion, Ken Nigohosian, now spends half the year in nearby Mission Viejo. Murray and Ken wanted to get together for lunch.
Murray and Ken were both All-FCIAC first team selections at midfield and fullback, respectively. This invitation was for me comparable to Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe wanting to have a meal together. Years ago I did have quality time with Monroe when he drove me between Westchester and New York for a business meeting. This was every bit as cool.
Specific soccer memories like that ‘65 FCIAC championship game, playing against archrival McMahon (including a recollection by Ken of rocks being thrown at the Staples players at that away match), and the remarkable traits of the legendary Albie Loeffler (including his ahead-of-the-curve providing of scouting reports on some top opponents) were all part of the lunch discussion.
So were general memories of life in Westport back in the day, including some of Murray and Ken’s favorite hangouts downtown: the Y and Bill’s Smoke Shop.
Murray and Ken were talented multi-sport athletes who played just about everything from football to baseball from the youth level all the way to varsity at both high school and college. Both said that Albie Loeffler was unequivocally the best coach they ever had in any sport, at any level of play.
It was a terrific lunch: in part a stroll down memory lane in Westport, but also a realization that we were all very fortunate to have played on special teams, for a special coach.