OPINION POLL QUESTION AND ARCHIVES
OPINION POLL #20: WHAT WAS THE GREATEST GAME IN STAPLES SOCCER HISTORY?
Steve Baumann ’70 came off the sidelines to send this response:
“In the context of 50 years of a storied legacy, ‘greatest’ has to really mean something. The selection must stretch way beyond any 80-90 minute game, or even 1 season or 1 decade. The greatest game must embody that ‘tipping point’ described in Malcolm Gladwell’s best seller.
“Without question, the greatest game in Staples soccer history was the 3-0 thrashing given to Brien McMahon in the 1967 state championship game. That was the tipping point for Staples soccer. The game itself was a classic involving the 2 best teams in the state, who had already split 2 earlier season games. It represented the emergence and accomplishment of a community-grown American soccer phenomenon (Westport) taking its place alongside a storied tradition of ethnic American-based soccer (Norwalk). Staples and Westport never looked back. The string of state championships and excellence that followed that 1st solo crown was unprecedented.
“This game made soccer the number 1 sport at the 2nd or 3rd largest high school in Connecticut — 2,000 kids in grades 10-12. Football, basketball and baseball were not the same after that game. For the next 15 years, the best athletes at Staples played soccer. It was the cornerstone for the immediate years of domination and recognition for Staples.
“The players in that game started a pipeline to colleges all over the East Coast that continues unabated. The 10 years after that game saw more college team captains, All-New England, All-Americans and professional players than probably any other high school in the US.
“That win was the impetus for the development of a soccer culture that saw aspiring soccer players showing up every summer 7 nights a week to play in league games, or for marathon short-goal games. It ushered in a new era of competition, where soccer players from ages 14-30 all played together in the same games. Your participation was truly determined by your skill and your desire to be there. Or, just by your love of the game. We know now that this is how all great players become great — they compete as often as they can against better players. While there may have been better Staples teams than that 1967 team, no single game had a greater effect than that one.
“Now for the second best game in Staples history, I suggest the pick-up game at Greens Farms Academy following the 1982 World Cup semifinal match between France and Germany that was decided on penalty kicks. 25 or 26 Staples players (plus a few wannabes) of various levels of renown gathered, having all just watched that titanic struggle. The cars pulled in almost in unison, the boots went on, the sides were drawn, the pitch was immaculate, and for the next 60-80 minutes we created the “beautiful game.” Inspired by the world-class match, the setting, the legacy and the camaraderie, it was the pick-up game to end all pick-up games. It was also the last time I played with Jim Kuhlmann.
“What started for me with the win in 1967 ended 15 years later, when the boots came off after that game. I never played in a better game after that 1982 one.”
(Steve Baumann ’70 was a sophomore sensation on that 1967 state championship squad. He went on captain the University of Pennsylvania; he was among the 1st American-born stars of the North American Soccer League, and he became head coach at his alma mater, Penn. He is currently executive director of Kidspace Children’s Museum in Pasadena, CA.)
Other alumni responded as well. In chronological order of games, they are:
“Staples vs. McMahon state final of 1967 [same game as above]. After losing to Phil Kydes and McMahon in the FCIACs, the 2 teams met again in the final. Kydes was as strong a player as ever played against Staples. Staples used to go to the Arrow Restaurant for pasta dinners before big games, and this was probably the biggest. Lou Nistico [owner] — a great football booster, with 2 nephews Cheech and Tom who played football for Staples — made a pre-game pledge to our team. He said that any player who scored in the final would get a $50 blazer from Ed Mitchell’s, any assist would qualify for a $20 sweater, and if the goalkeeper got a shutout he would also get a blazer. (In those days you could buy a blazer for $20 at Richards’ in Westfair Shopping Center.) It was amazing to us that a restaurant like the Arrow, with such a great football tradition, would even think of us.
“The final was incredible, not for having a last-second goal or a come-from-behind win, but for total domination of a great team that had previously beaten Staples. In the 3-0 shutout the Staples combination of Chip Young, Chris Keneally and Paul Baumann managed to shut down Phil Kydes. Jon Hand had 2 goals and 1 assist, and Bill Leary got the shutout. Lou Nistico came through as promised, and I remember well that Jon was offered 2 blazers and a sweater. He graciously thanked Mr. Nistico, and said that 1 blazer would be enough.” (Ray Flanigan ’69)
“For reasons virtually identical to those stated in Opinion Poll #16 (Best Goal Ever), I have to go with the Staples-Wethersfield semifinal in 1969. It was a terrific game against a tough upstate rival that went into sudden-death overtime, and the game-winning goal was a spectacular twisting header by Steve Baumann that would have made the highlight shows if it had been scored in Serie A in Italy or the Premier Division in England. But most significantly, it was the catalyst for the record run of 5 consecutive state titles, which established Staples’ reputation once and for all as an elite team in Connecticut soccer.” (Fred Cantor ’71)
“In 1972, Staples played upstate rival Conard of West Hartford for the state championship. It was extremely cold, and a well-played tight game at 0-0 until Staples won 1-0 with a very late goal.” (Larry Weiman ’73)
“This is a very tough one, so my answer is threefold. First, my brother Doug’s senior year state finals (1978). I was behind the goal when Gordon Hull slotted home the winner with 11 seconds remaining in the final overtime. That was an incredibly exciting thing to witness as a Staples wanna-be.
“Best finish, which puts it in contention for best game (or at least most memorable) was when Rob Stone hit what is now considered to be the best single shot in Staples history, in the 1982 state finals vs. Ridgefield.
“For me as a player, our first home game senior year (1981) when we faced Ridgefield. We were nervous going in, as they had been very difficult the previous couple of seasons. We ripped them apart 5-1, and put our stamp on what was to become a defining season.” (Dan Donovan ’82)
“1982 state final. ‘Jay Cook’s upraised arms say it all,’ read the caption in the Westport News. This game had it all: fierce rivalry; dueling All-Americans (Mark Noonan and Guy Welton); beautiful fall weather; local venue for both teams (Connor Field in New Canaan); world-class goal; tons of heart from Mike Brown re-entering in the second half after an injury; future Staples Wreckers cheering on the sidelines with enthusiasm and envy.” (Jem Sollinger ’88)
“I would have to pick our state tournament game against Westhill in the 2003 season. They were our biggest rival of the season. We beat them to gain confidence for the FCIAC playoffs, only to have them knock us out of the FCIACs in a heartbreaker. The state game seemed to be just like the FCIAC game, with Westhill taking a 2-goal lead in the 2nd half. However, oddly enough, not a single person (player or coach — I bet the parents were freaking out) on the Staples side got worried. We were too confident in our abilities, and we showed it by storming back with 2 brilliant, team-oriented goals. The game proceeded to an even ovetime, with both teams having chances. Naturally, the best game must come down to PKs. Having worked extremely hard and diligently the week prior in practice, we stepped up to the mark and buried all of them perfectly, leading to 1 of the best celebrations on the field I can ever remember.” (Charlie Stoebe ’04)
OPINION POLL #19: WHICH PLAYER IMPROVED THE MOST AFTER GRADUATING FROM STAPLES?
It was either Jayson Cook ’83 or Rich Horosky ’84, according to our respondents. Dan Donovan ’82 says this about Cook (“The Sparrow”): “He did not get accolades at North Carolina State University, but he stands out. When we played in the Over-23 league post-college, he was amazing. He made everything look so effortless, and could almost always be considered the best player on the field.”
Horosky earned this praise from Jon Walker ’88: “The captain and leader of Westport FC appears to be getting better with age.”
Runners-up: Mike Smith ’85 (“When he filled out at Providence College he became a fierce defender who enjoyed nothing more than a bone-crushing tackle”) and Andrew Udell ’88 (“A good high school player who went on to star at Lehigh University playing out of the back, was a scoring threat on set plays and was named to the Patriot League All-Decade team”).
All of which raises the interesting question: Why did all the players who improved the most after high school graduate within five years of each other?
OPINION POLL #18: WHAT WAS THE BEST TEAM EVER TO PLAY AGAINST STAPLES?
It was Brien McMahon by a landslide — but no two respondents agreed on exactly which Senator side was the greatest. Here, chronologically, are some responses:
“The 1965 McMahon squad that won the state title. Its front line featured 2 future college All-Americans, John Sahnas and Phil Kydes. (And I think anyone who saw them play would say they were 2 of the most talented players ever to come out of Connecticut.) Going into the FCIAC title game against Staples, McMahon’s top scorers had 18, 17 and 14 goals respectively. Staples had shocked McMahon in the regular season, 3-1; going into that game, McMahon’s closest contest had been a 3-0 win. Mr. Loeffler called that regular season victory the ‘most satisfying game’ at Staples up to that point in his career (which speaks volumes, since he had already won FCIAC championships and had a state co-championship). In the FCIAC championship Staples once again upset McMahon, 2-1 on a late PK. I know it sounds strange to consider a team Staples beat twice as the greatest opposing squad ever, but what Real Madrid was to European competition in the late 1950s, McMahon was to Connecticut high school soccer in 1965. And like Real Madrid, the Senators did win the ultimate prize.” — Fred Cantor ’71
“Brien McMahon in ’66 and ’67. Kydes, Marmonides, the Taylors — Laszlo and Kalman — the keeper Chris Salvati, and Chris Something-or-Other (he was the big mofo at center back with the blond hair who looked like a surfer, and pole vaulted as well). Also, for dramatic purposes, Eric Lund. They won the states in ’66, I believe, and if it wasn’t for us could have in ’67, although they copped the FCIAC championship that year. (That was my mistake: Kydes was a bitch to contain.)” — Chip Young ’68
“The 1976 Brien McMahon team. Three times in a 2-week span, they beat a very strong Staples team led by seniors Phil Moen (All-American) and Kevin Murphy. They shut out Staples 1-0 in the final game of the season, and 2-0 in the FCIAC championship 4 days later. The 2 teams met a 3rd time in the state semifinals, where McMahon won in sudden-death overtime on a Cam Diamandis goal. Staples that year only had 1 other loss. The Senators, led by Larry Ross at midfield and Tim Connolly in the back, lost only twice that season, including the state final against the Morrone borthers of E.O. Smith.” — Ted Aldrich (McMahon)
“I can only speak for teams I observed — any match 1980 or prior is not on my radar. However, I would have to assume that one of the ’60s McMahon teams (with Phil Kydes) or one of the E.O. Smith teams from the late ’70s warrant a few votes. All that being said, the best squad I ever saw compete against Staples was the 1984 state champ Ridgefield Tigers. The nucleus of this team were seniors and sophomores. Dan Dardenne, Clif Onalfo, Mark Edwards (all seniors), Kevin Wylie (junior) and Curt Onalfo and Dan Haugh (sophomores) formed the core. Dardenne was exceptional. While he received fewer accolades than Clif Onalfo, he was a superb striker — 2nd in the state to Mike Clifford in terms of skill and athleticism. He saw some time at UConn in college. Onalfo was a big presence in the midfield, and a very strong high school player (even though that didn’t translate into college — he had a short-lived stint at Clemson, and finished up at Columbia). Wylie was solid as a rock, and developed into a college All-American at Vermont. Curt Onalfo was a young, well-skilled sophomore at the time, on his way to Virginia, while Haugh was a tough-as-nails striker. The seniors on this team were the victims of the 1982 state finals versus Staples at Connor Field (at the time they were sophomores). Interestingly, Staples tied this 1984 state champ team 0-0 during the regular season. Jono Sollinger shut down Clif Onalfo with an unmatched work rate, and Mike Smith shadowed Dardenne.” — Jem Sollinger ’88
OPINION POLL #17: WHAT IS THE GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT OR ACHIEVEMENT IN THE STAPLES SOCCER PROGRAM’S HISTORY?
Perhaps the excitement of the 2003 season diverted attention from the question, but only 4 folks bothered to reply. However, in true Staples soccer fashion, their responses highlight 4 very different, yet important, facets of the program.
Two dealt exclusively with statistics. Bill Deegan ’63 cited the 25 consecutive shutouts spanning the ’70 and ’71 seasons, while Jordan Schur ’01 pointed to the 16-0-0 record of his 2000 squad. “This steam did not trail a game until the FCIAC championship,” he said. “This was the first and only undefeated, untied season in Staples’ regular season history.” (Jordan, unfortunately, forgot the 1965 and ’69 squads.)
Another response mixed records with less quantifiable successes. According to Fred Cantor ’71: “The greatest accomplishment has been the sustained level of excellence, at the highest level of competition, within a framework emphasizing sportsmanship and integrity. Staples’ record for the most state championship (11) in Connecticut’s largest (and, unquestionably, most competitive) school-size category and the most FCIAC championships (23) in the conference considered by many to the be the premier soccer conference in the state are significant. But what makes them even more impressive is that Staples has won state titles in each full decade of competition (the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s), and has already won its first FCIAC title of this decade. This consistency of excellence, in my biased opinion, truly separates Staples from all other Connecticut high school soccer programs. And what ultimately distinguishes the program too is that the coaches have guided the teams to these unparalleled successes while always stressing the importance of sportsmanlike conduct.
Mike Dobbs ’97, who just completed his first year as freshman coach, stated: “I spent time at the parents’ meeting speaking about this. It’s not a specific moment in time, but I believe the bonds and connections made through the program are its greatest achievement. I told the parents that the people I count on most are the friends I had while playing soccer at Staples. In the end, what matters most is that I know guys from many different eras, like Jon Walker, Jeff Lea, Mark and Mike Noonan and Bobby Guadagno. I’m not sure this answers the question, but it’s definitely what I believe.”
OPINION POLL #16: WHAT WAS THE BEST GOAL EVER SCORED BY STAPLES? You judge what “best” means: most spectacular, most important, most clutch…whatever. We’re looking for a description of the goal and good, sound reasons why it deserves to be called “best goal ever.”
This question drew the most responses of any Opinion Poll in StaplesSoccer.com history, but the winner is clear: Senior defender Rob Stone’s near-midfield blast in the waning minutes of the 1982 state finals, which lifted the Wreckers to a 1-0 victory over Ridgefield. Mark Noonan ’83 put it best: “It was the only goal in a state championship final against an archrival to complete the second undefeated season in a row. Also, quality: I’ve watched the tape many, many times, and that shot was a honer, not a floater. Also, unlikely source: It was the only goal of Stone’s varsity career.”
Added Jono Sollinger ’86: “My U-14 team was watching the game, just before we played Wilton in the state cup semis. We were all on the same side of the field as Stone, about 10 yards away from him. It was an amazing strike — the sequence seemed to happen in slow motion. He was a husky but tough outside right back, technically better than one would expect. He struck the perfect instep drive, and as it sailed into the upper twine, you could feel the chills being sent through the crowd. As a team, the moment was singed into our collective cortices. We went out and crushed Wilton, and one week later had our spectacular state final victory against a very mature Stamford Panhellenic.”
Stone even got a vote from Jon Walker ’88, who suppressed the urge to vote for his own “I’m in heaven — I scored the winning goal!” goal. (In 1987, after tallying the overtime winner in the 1-0 FCIAC championship over Greenwich, Walker uttered that comment to Channel 12 news; it quickly became a Wrecker cult classic, and was repeated for years to come.)
Other notable goals (and comments), in chronological order:
“The goal by Jon ‘Baby’ Hand against Bristol Central in the state semis in 1967 with 2 minutes to go was the most exciting thing I have ever seen. Weaved through the whole defense from 25 yards to about 8, and tucked it away. Might have just handed us the state title then; no way were we losing to McMahon again.” — Chip Young ’68
“A strong case can be made for the 2 sudden-death goals near the very end of state title games by Jimmy Manning (1973) and Gordon Hull (1978), and for Rob Stone’s goal late in regulation play in the 1982 championship. But if those goals had not been scored, Staples in all likelihood would still have been crowned co-champion. For me, the best goal — for both significance and degree of difficulty — has to be Steve ‘Reno’ Baumann’s header with a minute left in overtime in the 1969 state semifinal against Wethersfield, the defending state champs. He had his back to the goal on a long free kick from near midfield and outjumped a couple of defenders, somehow managing to direct the ball toward the upper corner. It would have been a brilliant goal even at the professional level. Without that goal, we would have headed to the crapshoot of penalty kicks. And the significance was that 1969 started the string of 5 consecutive state titles (a Connecticut record); during this period Staples became known for soccer supremacy. If Reno hadn’t scored — well, given our PK failures the following year, I’d rather not think about it.” — Fred Cantor ’71
“Gordon Hull’s game-winner in the 1978 finals with 11 seconds to go in the last overtime. While certainly dramatic and a state championship winner, the finish lacked the quality of Stone’s blast.” — Mark Noonan ’83
“Jon Hendrickson’s sudden-death overtime goal from 30 yards out to beat Danbury in the state semifinals and propel us to the last Staples state title in 1993. The goal was wild because the Danbury keeper misjudged the shot/cross (we’ll never know what it was!), and it looped over his head to avenge a 4-1 loss to Danbury earlier in the season. Pig pile ensued.” — Tim Caffrey ’94
OPINION POLL #15: WHO WAS THE BEST PLAYER EVER TO FACE STAPLES? The winner by a clear margin: Phil Kydes of Brien McMahon. According to Chip Young ’68: “Leading scorer in Connecticut at least his senior year (may have set scoring record too), if not junior as well. Scored 2 goals against us his senior year, when we gave up about 7 total and won the state title against them, 3rd game of the year between Staples and McMahon. All-America at Harvard, where I had to play against the bastard for 4 more interminable years, and he led them to the Final 4 with center forward Charlie Thomas of Gambia (who I got in 3 fistfights with). But Phil was a very nice, gracious guy who I played with on his Greek team in Norwalk in the offseason, and an absolutely terrific player with springs in his legs, acrobatic and incredible ball control. He was a nightmare to play against. Only high spot was him hitting himself in the face with a bicycle kick in the FCIAC championship we lost 1-0 in overtime (our only loss of the year). His brother Andy was also an All-America at Harvard. But I never saw a better high school player than Phil.
Adds Ray Flanigan ’69: “Have not seen enough in recent years to judge the current crop of players, but through the ’70s Phil was the most skilled and dangerous player we had ever seen. Everything McMahon did went through Phil. Fierce battles in the FCIACs and states. I believe he scored 39 goals in his senior year, back when there were fewer games and games were shorter. After Harvard was drafted into the NASL but chose to work in the family business in Norwalk. His father was an imposing figure on the sideline, a former Greco-Roman wrestler from Greece who had tremendous passion for the game.”
Other nominees: Farzin Azarm, Greenwich (“deceptive, very well-skilled central midfielder”); Nick Bakes, Westhill (“strong striker – very, very dangerous up top”); Curt Onalfo, Ridgefield (“great skill, strong vision”); Rob Thompson of Simsbury (“very composed, rock-solid sweeper”) and Franz Innocent, Nyack.
OPINION POLL #14: WHO HAD THE BEST THROW-IN IN STAPLES HISTORY? The clear winner is Steve “Reno” Baumann ’70. “Got to be Reno,” wrote Ray Flanigan ’69. “Not only known for his throw-ins at Staples, but later with the University of Pennsylvania and then with the NASL’s Miami Toros. Reno had probably the strongest throw-in in the whole country, as it was whipped in like a bullet and considered more dangerous than a corner kick. Funny thing was that there was talk going into his junior year that he might gave to give up all sports because of a back problem. He overcame that to become one of the strongest and best players in Staples soccer history.” Reno’s nomination was seconded by a variety of sources, including long-time Wrecker supporter Joan McCarthy P’79.
Ray notes that Jon Hand ’69 “had a great throw as well, but a bit one-handed. Rarely called for it — had a great swerve.” Other worthy nominees include Jim Manning ’74, Mike Roberts ’76, Chris Withers ’81, Bob Handelman ’85, Peter Sheinbaum ’88, Jeff Forbes ’92 and Mike Weiss ’92.
OPINION POLL #13: WHO IS THE LEAST LIKELY EXCELLENT FORMER PLAYER TO SHOW UP AT AN ALUMNI GAME OR EVENT — AND WHY? We were looking for the (living) player who has fallen farthest off the face of the earth after achieving great Staples success. Either very few Wrecker stars have vanished from view or this was a question no one cared about, because the e-mails did not exactly pour in. The winner in weak voting was Gordie Hull ’79, who after scoring the winning goal with 11 seconds remaining in the final overtime of the 1978 “LL” championship match headed off to Wheaton College in Illinois, never to be heard from again. Rumors place him back in his native Brazil doing missionary work, but those are unconfirmed. Others cited for their spectacular inactivity include Guy Claveloux ’83 (despite his current residence in Westport), Mike Moses ’83 and Mike Clifford ’84.
OPINION POLL #12: WHAT WAS THE GREATEST SAVE IN STAPLES HISTORY? We were looking for a description of the save (made by a Staples keeper, not an opponent!), and a good reason why it was so important. There were plenty of good nominations, but no clear-cut winner. Here are the most intriguing responses, arranged chronologically.
From Ray Flanigan ’69: “Got to be midfielder Scott Williamson ’70, inserted into the goal in the middle of penalty kicks replacing Jon Demeter ’69 against Newington, in the state semifinals in 1968. Unfortunately we lost Jon Hand ’69 in the 1st quarter to a broken arm and were down 2-0 before the ambulance left the field. We came back to tie before halftime, only to go down 3-2 in the 3rd quarter. Williamson scored the tying goal with a few minutes left in regulation. After scoreless OTs we went to PKs, and Coach Loeffler inserted Williamson for either the 4th or 5th attempt by Newington. He had won a few Carvel milkshakes off the seniors in practice making saves, so Albie must have felt he was the real deal. We won 5-4 to advance to the state finals. I’ll never forget seeing Jon waiting for our return to Staples with a full cast and tears in his eyes, presuming the loss. In those days they counted PKs in the tally, so we told him we won 8-7. We went on to lose 1-0 to Wethersfield in the finals – we could have used Baby Hand.”
From Alex Deegan ’91: “I didn’t see it, but for years I’ve heard about Bob Simonton ’81’s save against Greenwich in the ’78 state finals.” It was indeed a great one — with the score 2-2, Dennis Taylor ripped from 15 yards out. Simonton sprawled. With mud in his eye, he could not see the ball. But he reacted instinctively, and an official called Simonton’s save 1 of the best he had seen in 20 years. The Wreckers, inspired, won the match on Gordon Hull’s goal — with 11 seconds remaining in the final overtime.
From Mike Dobbs ’97: “The setting was the state semis, and the opponent was Simsbury. After 100 scoreless minutes we went to penalty kicks. After 3 shots we had only 1 goal, but going into the last shot we had a 1-goal lead. Simsbury’s last shot was struck up the middle. Goalie Wes Martino ’97 guessed to the right side, but seemed to have jumped too far. At the last possible moment he struck out his foot and made one of the most amazing kick saves I’ve ever seen, sending us to the state finals.”
From Tom Carey P’01: “Matt Katz ’01, 1999 against New Canaan at home. Last regular season game of the season. Staples was threatening, and the defense was pushed up to half field. Katz was off his line, well beyond the 18. There was a change in possession, and a New Canaan player lofted a ball that bounced wickedly off a small rock and over Katz’s head. He turned to the goal and in 1 motion lunged successfully, batting the ball away just before a 2nd bounce and a clear path to the goal. The momentum stayed Staples’ way, and they ultimately won 3-1.”
From Dave Rotatori ’04: “Staples vs. Trinity Catholic in 2002, in a 300-mph windstorm. Cal Mintz ’04 was bored, so he threw the ball right to the forward who took a great shot. The save was spectacular, since Cal then proceeded to fall on his butt and manage a smile.”
OPINION POLL #11: WHO WAS THE BEST SHOOTER IN STAPLES HISTORY? We were looking not for the player with the most goals, but the best pure finisher — the player you’d most want up front in the waning seconds of a state championship game. Nominations were few, suggesting that pure finishers are not exactly a Wrecker specialty. The fact that the winner was Jon “Baby” Hand ’69 — a player from over 3 decades ago — proves the paucity of pure finishers. No other Stapleite received more than 1 vote.
According to Fred Cantor ’71: “He had great poise, was elusive in tight spaces, and could shoot accurately and powerfully with both feet. My opinion is based not just on having seen him in a number of games, but also from having had the privilege of playing up front with him in spring and summer soccer. And since the opinion poll asks which player you would want in the waning seconds of a championship game, Baby Hand’s scoring exploits in state tournament competition provide all the evidence I need. In 1967 he dominated the state tournament, and scored a number of goals (including I believe 2 in the championship match) in leading the Wreckers to the title. The following year he continued his scoring spree until an injury knocked him out in the semifinals. Without him the team was shut out, 1-0, in the ’68 title game. And that team had Steve Baumann ’70, who I believe is a close second for this honor. So, to borrow the immortal words of Carly Simon, ‘Baby, you’re the best.'”
OPINION POLL #10: WHAT WAS THE MOST OBSCURE OR RANDOM COLLEGE ATTENDED BY ANY STAPLES SOCCER PLAYER? Virtually everyone was on summer vacation, it seems, or else this was a spectacularly poor question. The only response came from Jason Aster ’02, now a first-year student at Austin College in Sherman, Texas who nominated himself. Jason wrote: “I don’t know how many alums have attended school in Texas, but I’m assuming not too many. There are only 1500 students here. Believe it or not, I bring diversity — I’m the only one from Connecticut. There’s probably someone who has gone to a place more obscure, but I thought I’d give it a shot.” Well, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Congratulations, Jason, on your obscurity!
OPINION POLL #9: WHICH WAS THE BEST DEFENSIVE TEAM IN STAPLES HISTORY? We’re not sure whether it was the distraction of the World Cup or the lack of glamour of defense in general, but this poll drew the fewest responses of any so far. Only three teams were nominated, all by players on that particular team.
Fred Cantor ’71 said: “This question is unfair to every superb group of defenders who played on Staples teams other than the record-setting 1970 squad. Although I was a starting forward on that team, I had very little to do with our incredible defensive success, since I was not exactly known for my defensive hustle. So players from other teams cannot claim I am biased. The record — 17 shutouts in 18 games; no Connecticut team scored on the ’70 Wreckers; only 2 goals allowed (to a New York team); 16 consecutive shutouts (a national record for 1 season until 1995); a streak of 25 consecutive shutouts (those 16, plus 9 at the start of 1971), which may still be a national record…so let the honor be shared by goalie Tracy McIntosh; his sub Munro Magruder, who stepped in for the injured Mac in the state tourney; the fullback line of Neil Brickley, Olaf Neilsen and Chuck Russell, and the midfield of Steve Levin, Wally Salwen and Trip Pearce. One final note: All of these guys were seniors, so not only were they the greatest defensive team ever, they were unequivocally the greatest defensive class.”
Dan Donovan ’82 said: “The clear choice: The 1981 starting backfield of Bruce Kinnaman (MVP of the state tournament championship game), Pete Schwartz, Todd Zucker and Guy Claveloux gave up just 8 goals in a 20-game season (0.4 GAA) — only 5 by starting keeper Tom Jones, and registered 13 shutouts. Important to note that future backfield scoring legend Rob Stone was a mere substitute in this prestigious backfield. As to the ’71 team: It doesn’t count when you play against junior high sides.”
Mark Noonan ’82 countered: “1982. Unscored upon in state tourney, with Rob Sweetnam in goal. Enough said.”
OPINION POLL #8: WHO WAS THE BEST PLAYER TO GET SCREWED IN ALL-STATE OR ALL-FCIAC VOTING? Two Wreckers lead our All-Screwed list: Chris Kranick ’82 and Jayson Cook ’83. According to Dan Donovan ’82: “Chris started as a sophomore, at a time when it was almost impossible for sophomores to even make varsity, was nearly elected captain as a junior (there was a movement started by the departing seniors, but it was unheard of at the time), was captain senior year when he patrolled the midfield like no other, and I think won the Block S for Most Valuable Player. My father used to describe Chris as going into a pack of players and always coming out with the ball. He was strong, a great distributor, and had a blistering shot. I remember one versus a Stamford team that splintered the goal post, literally knocking it to the ground. Nick Georgis held it up so we could finish the match.”
Mike Brown ’83 notes: “Jayson, without a doubt. Played in college alongside Tab Ramos. Ruled the adult leagues after college. Probably is still better than anyone on the All-FCIAC team.” Runner-up: Stig Stenild-Johansen ’88.
OPINION POLL #7: WHO WAS THE BEST TACKLER IN STAPLES HISTORY? This was our most popular opinion poll ever, with nominations dividing along generational lines. The winner, by a couple of hard sticks, is Guy Claveloux ’82. According to Jem Sollinger ’88, Guy showed “unmatched intensity and discipline as a man-to-man marker. When he went in for a tackle, you could hear the aggression throughout the pitch.” Mike Brown ’82 added: “He was ferocious (mostly from behind).”
Other top vote-getters included, from oldest to youngest: Chip Young ’68 (“He did an unbelievable job on Phil Kydes in the ’67 state finals” — Ray Flanigan ’69); Chris Keneally ’69; Tim Hunter ’71 (“He never lost a stick. He taught me how to stick hard and drop my shoulder into my opponent for an ‘extra advantage,’ and how to roll the ball up over the opponent’s foot” — Dan Donovan ’81); Neil Brickley ’71 (“The epitome of clean, hard and locked. I don’t remember seeing anyone then or since who was better on the ball” — Jim Bacharach ’72), and Ed Murphy ’74.
Special mention goes to Mike Smith ’85. He was not a renowned tackler in high school, but as Mike Brown ’82 says: “In college (Providence) and after, he was the hardest tackler to step on any field I’ve ever been on.” Special mention too for a pair of unique nominations. Jordan Schur ’01 says of Zack Gross ’01: “He was not a defender, but the way he hounded down defenders and won the ball was remarkable. The strength of his tackles was unmatched.” And Jason Aster ’02 cites one particular tackle as worthy of fame: Noah Dinkin ’02’s stick against Fairfield, which sent an unfortunate Mustang high into orbit.
OPINION POLL #6: WHICH WAS THE BEST ‘BROTHER COMBINATION’ EVER TO PLAY TOGETHER AT STAPLES? The voting was close, but the winners are one of the two sets of Murphy brothers: Kenny ’76 and Kevin ’77. One respondent called them “pretty pesky”; another recalls their feistiness continued into college, when both were ejected for fighting while playing on opposite teams (the Universities of Connecticut and Rhode Island, respectively) in the NCAA tournament. Both had plenty of skill to go along with their tough style of play; their competitiveness helped inspire their teammates as well as each other. Finishing second: Jono Sollinger ’86 and Jem Sollinger ’88, both (like the Murphys) highly competitive captains. “They were workhorses at midfield Jono’s senior year,” one voter wrote. “It was fun to watch them compete against each other in practice, then work together during games.” Also receiving votes: Jeff Hand ’67 and Jon Hand ’69; Paul Baumann ’69 and Steve Baumann ’70; Dennis Murphy ’73 and Ed Murphy ’74; and Wes Martino ’97 and Kyle Martino ’99. Interestingly, Jon Hand’s nickname, “Baby,” came from the fact that he was Jeff’s younger brother. One voter remembers Jon punching Jeff in the back during practice. Ah, brotherly love.
OPINION POLL #5: WHO WAS THE MOST IMPACTFUL PLAYER WHO SPENT ONLY ONE YEAR AT STAPLES HIGH SCHOOL? The winner, in a landslide, is Stig Stenild-Johansen ’88. Teammate and classmate Jem Sollinger describes the Danish exchange student: “Stig showed up unannounced the first day of tryouts. He looked like an athlete, and from his first lefty touch I knew we had been given a gift for our senior year. He had a powerful shot, strong skills, and was an educated left-footed player. Our first match against Norwalk, he was ‘walking on water,’ as one observer said. His stats were not outstanding, nor did he receive any post-season honors, but his level of play was comparable to any of the best players on the team. More importantly, he became one of us — very quickly. He was a terrific soccer player but an even better friend, who penetrated and was accepted into a group of guys who had played together for over 10 years. He opened my eyes to the foreign exchange students at Staples. His contibutions on and off the field make him the most impactful player who spent only one year at Staples.”
Eddie Murphy ’74 deserves an asterisk. According to his brother Ken ’76: “He was at Staples sophomore year. I don’t believe he saw any varsity action, although he was called up for the post-season. He went to Trinity Pawling junior year, but returned as a senior and virtually put us on his back and took us to the state championship. The 1973 team did not return a varsity starter from the previous year. Eddie played sweeper, but when we were down late in games, he played up top. Incredibly, he would score the goal to get us the tie. We were 13-0-6, and most of those ties were come-from-behind. At the end of the season he was named High School All-American, and Mr. Loeffler called Eddie ‘the most complete player we have had at Staples.'”
Also deserving an asterisk: Norwegian exchange student Per Haarr ’58. Though better known for his spectacular track accomplishments, he was a member of the very first club team back in 1957, and played an integral role in getting Staples soccer off the ground.
OPINION POLL #4: WHICH WAS THE BEST 2-PLAYER COMBINATION IN STAPLES SOCCER HISTORY? In other words, which two teammates — at any position — worked best together on the field, and why? There were some superb nominations, and plenty of strolls down memory lane, but the most votes went to the combo of Jon “Baby” Hand ’69 and Steve “Reno” Baumann ’70. In the words of Fred Cantor ’71: “Both were tremendous goal scorers, and both could draw the attention of the defense and then lay off the ball for the other. They beat defenders with their quickness and dribbling skill, created openings and delivered great passes.” Chip Young ’68 adds: “Baby Hand was the best athlete I ever played with in any sport. He made it look easy, and saved our bacon in the state semis with a great goal before we beat McMahon in the final, which he also scored in. Reno was a born striker, absolutely fearless, and a great pro. They made my job easy when we won the state championship in 1967.” In second place: Gordie Hull ’79 and Tod Barrett ’79.
OPINION POLL #3: WHO IS THE BEST REFEREE IN STAPLES SOCCER HISTORY? The winner, in a runaway, is Paul Bourdeau. He officiated numerous Staples regular season and championship matches from the 1960s through the early ’90s, with fairness, flair, a high respect for the players and rules, and wit. A member of the Connecticut Soccer Hall of Fame, he is now retired and living in Texas. Others receiving substantial votes never officiated a Staples game, but certainly qualify as part of our history. Brian Kelley, longtime Staples physical education teacher, and basketball and baseball coach, was prohibited by that affiliation from ever refereeing a Wrecker game; however, he was one of the best high school and college referees around, and even whistled an NCAA championship game. He is now retired, and lives on Cape Cod. Of course, Albie Loeffler, founder of the Staples soccer program, was also a noted official; he was part of the first two-man crew ever to referee an NCAA match, and he also did many top college games throughout the Northeast. Interestingly, both Paul Bourdeau and Brian Kelley were mentored as referees by Albie Loeffler.
OPINION POLL #2: WHO IS THE BEST SUMMER SHORT-GOAL PLAYER IN STAPLES HISTORY? The winner, by a substantial margin, is not a Staples alumnus, yet he did more to teach skill, game sense and passion than perhaps anyone in Wrecker history: Jim Kuhlmann. The former University of Bridgeport All-American (and Albie Loeffler’s student teacher), long-time semipro star (once called “the greatest American-born player of his time”) and volunteer U-19 coach spent countless hours each summer playing long, hard and intense games of short-goal. His quiet style influenced hundreds of Staples players. Nor to be forgotten is his work at summer camps, first with Albie Loeffler at Woodbrook and Sugarbrook, then as the owner with Jim Kaufman ’61 of the Soccer Farm, which produced generations of great Wreckers. Jim Kuhlmann died tragically several years ago of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 55 years old. Others receiving substantial votes as the best short-goal player in Staples history include Tim Hunter ’71, Dana Hollingsworth ’73, Paul Hunter ’73, Dennis Murphy ’73, Ed Murphy ’74, Ken Murphy ’76, Kevin Murphy ’77 and Peter “Ox” Doolittle ’88.
OPINION POLL #1: WHO WAS THE BEST GOALKEEPER IN STAPLES HIGH SCHOOL HISTORY? It’s a dead heat (honest!) between Shane Kennedy ’72 and Alex Deegan ’91. Congratulations to both keepers — and thanks to all netminders in Wrecker history.