Games Grownups Play
The boys should have been having a ball.
It was a sunny autumn day, and on the greensward that is Garland's Winters Park, the culmination of everything for which the Genesis '85 boys soccer team had worked so hard all season lay before them. They were at the annual Celtic Tournament, where elite young soccer players from the Dallas area get the chance to see how they stack up against the best teams from other Texas cities.
It was the end of the first season in the prestigious world of "select" or "competitive" soccer in which the 10-year-old boys of Genesis '85 were able to play. No more kid's stuff. No more easygoing recreational leagues, with their reasonable fees, egalitarian rules (everyone makes the team, everyone plays half the game), and parent-coaches who often know next to nothing about soccer.
The boys on Genesis '85 (the teams are named for the players' birth year) had survived grueling, ego-bruising tryouts for club teams put together by paid professional coaches, who offer yearlong contracts, then require kids to practice two, three, sometimes four times a week. For the privilege of having a child on a select team, parents fork over an average of $1,000 a year, which doesn't include shoes, uniforms, travel expenses, and other extras.
Under the tutelage of their coach, Diego Castro, a former pro soccer player from Chile, the 16 boys selected from the dozens who tried out for Genesis '85 slowly learned the intricacies of the game, the subtle strategies of how to bring the ball up from the back, and developed into a cohesive, scrappy unit. They managed to win a respectable third of their season games in the Metroplex's most prestigious and competitive league, the Coca Cola Classic, sponsored by the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce.
Now, the week before Thanksgiving, they were in their first tournament in the big time. But instead of being psyched up, the boys of Genesis '85 looked like they had lost their best friend--and, in a way, they had. As they took the field in their first match of the day to face Rolling Thunder from Arlington , the Genesis '85 athletes were without their beloved coach Castro, who had worked so patiently to get them there. Instead, one of the players' dads filled in as coach.
Genesis club president, Butch Stokes, had fired coach Castro two weeks earlier--with a dozen practices, a league game, and two tournaments left in the season. The president's decision--resulting from a complaint lodged by a parent, who also happened to be a club officer, that his son wasn't getting enough playing time--split the club into warring factions. The overwhelming majority of parents sided with the coach; after all, it was the parents who were paying Castro's $700-a-month salary.
But it was the kids who were caught in the middle.
"The question my son had was, 'Why?'" says Gordon Hunter, a Texas Lawyer reporter whose son, Ian, played goalkeeper for Genesis '85. "I didn't have an answer. There is no logical answer, nothing a kid would understand. At the peak of the season, their coach, who was the impetus for a lot of them being with the club, was fired from underneath them."
Though the team brought to the tournament as much heart and skill as they could muster, they failed miserably. In their first game, they were creamed by Rolling Thunder 6-0. Genesis '85 didn't fare much better in their next match, against a team from Rockwall.
The parents sat in the bleachers, offering what support they could as their sons "got their brains beat in," in the words of one parent. The parents were fuming not only about the decision of the club president to fire Castro, but also because the Carrollton-based North Texas State Soccer Association (NTSSA), the local governing body for youth soccer, had forbid Genesis '85 from leaving the club in order to continue being coached by Castro.
Throughout the tournament, several frustrated parents protested by wearing T-shirts with a line through the word Genesis and by hoisting a large sign that read: "Genesis Held Hostage, Day 14." For such actions, deemed "not in the best interest of soccer," the NTSSA youth commissioner later would threaten the parents with sanctions.
"It was a pretty bizarre introduction to competitive soccer," says Gordon Hunter. For the hapless 10-year-olds on the field, it was a vivid introduction to the pettiness, politics, and power trips that often have come to define sports.
After three decades, soccer is beginning to catch on in the United States, thanks in part to the 1994 World Cup being shared by several American cities, including Dallas. This year, for the first time in a decade, Major League Soccer, the premier-level outdoor professional league--in which the renowned Pele played before the league's collapse in 1985--is set to debut again.
On the youth level, soccer began its phenomenal growth 20 years ago and now registers 2.4 million players annually, according to the Richardson-based U.S. Youth Soccer Association. As a team sport for players younger than 12, it is second only to basketball in participants; for those younger than 18, it is third behind basketball and volleyball, according to the Soccer Industry Council of America.
The North Texas area, where 100,000 children are registered with the North Texas State Soccer Association, is the fourth largest in the country in participation. "It's the best sport for kids," says Motie Solimani, a native of Israel with four children playing soccer. "They get to touch the ball, there's less risk of injuries, it builds their coordination from an early age, and kids love it. Soccer players are the best athletes in the world. It's like playing basketball, but with your legs, which is a lot harder. It's getting bigger here every day. And why not? The rest of the world can't be wrong."
In the same way that immensely popular Friday-night football provides towns with a sense of unity and pride, soccer teams have given dislocated suburban families a sense of community. Nowhere is that soccer community more intense and passionate than at the competitive--or select--level of play. Only about 1,000 kids participate in the prestigious, all-consuming world of select soccer, but they--and their parents, coaches, and club officers--are a zealous lot.
While soccer may never eclipse Texas football, select soccer, at least, is acquiring a distinctly Lone Star flavor: allegations of unethical behavior, recruiting violations, retaliation plots, and flagrant displays of empire building. In fact, in select kids' soccer, some of the most bitter battles have happened off the field--between adults.
It all starts innocently enough.
You put your 5-year-old son or daughter in recreational soccer, in leagues run by the city, local Y, or Chamber of Commerce, figuring your child will at least burn off some excess energy, make some friends, and perhaps even develop some skills along the way.
In the early years, the players--seven kids on a side--chase the black-and-white ball down the field in mobs. It's referred to as "herd soccer."
Though the emphasis is on having fun, it doesn't take long before kids and parents get caught up in the frenzy of competition and some kids start to show more promise than others. These youths might be asked by their coaches to compete in special four-on-four tournaments held in between the fall and spring seasons. Their parents will start looking into week-long soccer camps, some run by the members of the Dallas Sidekicks in their off-season.
It was at a soccer camp that Ian Hunter-Reeves' prowess got noticed. "The goalie coach at the camp told me he was good," recalls Ian's dad, Gordon Hunter.
By the time your kid who has excelled at soccer is in the third or fourth grade, you'll start hearing, like Hunter did, about the world of select soccer and the myriad clubs that feed it--a world riven by intense rivalries.
"Select soccer definitely has a mystique," Hunter says.
Over the last 20 years, North Texas has given birth to more than 30 select soccer clubs, with names like the Longhorns, Solar, Comets, Andromeda, Genesis, Inter, and the Dallas Texans. Over time, they have developed unique personalities, set by the coaches or the club presidents. The Comets, for instance, are a strong, competitive club, with many stellar teams overseen by one of the most respected coaches around, Horst Bertl, who played in the German Bundesliga and helped his team there win the equivalent of the Super Bowl in European soccer.
The Longhorns have been around the longest, and started what has become the Dallas Cup, today one of the most prestigious international youth tournaments in the world. It is held right before Easter. The Longhorn coaches are only allowed to coach one team each, the idea being that the players get more individual attention.
When stockbroker Dick Stanford and his wife, Jackie, helped start Inter after their grandson had begun playing competitive soccer, the couple conceived of a club that would be more humane, with coaches who would understand "that this wasn't just about sports, but you were dealing with kids' emotions and self-esteem," says Jackie Stanford. On the other hand, Inter was also one of the first clubs to solicit corporate donations to help keep fees down. Inter also finagled their own practice field, located off the Dallas North Tollway, by getting the field's owner, who was tired of paying high taxes on it, to donate it to the club. Inter, a nonprofit organization, does not have to pay taxes on the field.
"My grandson quit a year ago," says Jackie, whose players all call her "Nanna." "But for Dick and I, letting go of soccer was like trying to let go of flypaper."
Then there's the Dallas Texans, the detested yet admired select-soccer newcomers, who in just three years have created the strongest teams in the league. Many coaches and parents criticize the recruiting methods of the club's founder, Hassan Nazari. Though Nazari admits he set out to build a sort of super race of soccer club, vowing to bring select soccer to a new level of competitiveness, he denies any wrongdoing. His detractors are simply jealous of his success, he says.
In the last decade, the number of select soccer clubs has multiplied to accommodate the increasing quest for more rigorous play. With few soccer teams at the junior-high level, and a lack of knowledgeable high-school soccer coaches, the clubs fill a void. "If you're lucky enough to even have a high-school soccer team, chances are you'll be coached by the football coach in the off-season whose first soccer game of the season is the first soccer game he's ever been to," says Mike Stevens, tournament director for the Arlington Legend Soccer Club. "The first thing he tries to do is call a time-out." (There are no time-outs in soccer.)
Even if their high school has a good soccer team, many kids play for both their school and a club team, to increase their chances of getting college scholarships. The club system has become the way to make it into the higher echelons of the sport--the Olympic Development Program, state and regional teams, even the U.S. Olympic team--where college coaches take notice.
Before beginning to negotiate the dizzying array of clubs and their distinct cultures, a player's parents must come to grips with the time and money involved, and the fact that soccer will come to dictate family life. "The first thing we heard is that you can forget about taking vacations in the summer," Hunter says.
The first two weeks of July are reserved for select-team tryouts. Even many of the parents who are committed to select soccer complain that the tryout system is brutal, especially for the fragile psyches of the youngest players, fifth and sixth graders. One mother likens the two-week ordeal to sorority rush.
Some clubs advertise their tryouts in the monthly soccer newspaper The Pitch, or put fliers under windshield wipers at spring tournaments to attract would-be first-year players. Hopefuls scout prospective teams. Often a first-year player will want to play for a certain coach the child may have met during a clinic or at a soccer camp.
Coaches notoriously invite far more kids to tryouts than they can possibly pick. Diego Castro says it's done out of courtesy, not meanness. But parents say it is agonizing if, at the end of two weeks, a child isn't offered a contract by a team for which he or she wants to play.
"Rejection is a lot to handle for an 11-year-old," says one mom. "It was our first year through and it was horrible. The coaches played games. 'Why didn't you come to me first?' Some told my son he was going to make the team--but then a better player came along."
Her son loved recreational soccer, and was encouraged by several club coaches to try out for select. When he didn't make any of the select teams, "he was devastated," says his mom.
"You lose your mind seeing your child hurt," she says. "The coaches stand there and say, 'You're good, you're bad, you're out.' There's no mercy."
Her son eventually got on a team--coached by a player for the Sidekicks.
Mike Stevens, tournament director of Legend, acknowledges that the tryout system is flawed. "The problem is that all these coaches are young guys with no kids. They just don't understand."
"There are definite problems with the system," agrees Castro, "but it's like democracy. It's got its problems, but what's the alternative?"
At the end of the two weeks, coaches offer the players they want a contract to play for them, just like in the pros, except instead of the players being paid, the parents do the paying--anywhere from $700 to $1,200 a year, depending on the team.
Though worldwide soccer, which requires little more than a ball and some players, is considered a sport of the masses, in the select clubs of the United States, it is fast becoming a sport of the well-to-do. It takes a serious commitment of money and immense amounts of time to keep a child on a select team. Even though some teams offer partial or full scholarships to low-income players, middle- and upper-class families can more easily ferry their children to practice--often an hour or longer round-trip--two to three times a week.
Why do parents sign on for this kind of inconvenience and expense, let alone expose their children to the ego-deflating tryouts? "We want our kid to progress, to be the best he can be, to be coached by the best and to play at the highest level of competition," says one mother, "and, hey, if it'll keep our kid off the street, what's bad?"
For some, it's an investment in their kid's future, a chance at a college sports scholarship, maybe even a shot at the Olympics or the pros. Yet most admit these are elusive dreams at best.
"Rec [soccer] people think select people are crazy, spending all this time and money," says one select-club parent. It's like a regular student vs. the talented-and-gifted. They think they get too much attention, but these kids need to excel."
Schellas Hyndman, soccer coach at Southern Methodist University, who ran his own soccer club on a volunteer basis for eight years, calls select soccer a "can of worms." North Texas is the premier hunting ground for college scouts, he says, but that has its downside.
"With coaches today making a living at it, it can become pretty vicious for the kids," Hyndman says. "It can be the best system in the world, but it also teaches a lot of values we don't necessarily want to teach kids."
Many parents agree that as select soccer has grown, it has also changed for the worse. This year, in particular, area select soccer has been plagued by scandal, including some preposterous antics unthinkable in a children's level of sports. "It's the white hats vs. the black hats," says one insider. "The white hats do it for the kids. The black hats have ulterior motives--power, self-interest, money, who knows what?"
The level of animosity generated in these incidents has left parents and coaches apprehensive. Most would talk to the Observer only on the condition they not be identified for fear the NTSSA would ban them, or their children, from soccer. Parents also are afraid of provoking coaches who are involved in picking the state and regional teams or have connections with universities.
One parent, who has devoted the last decade of her life to select soccer, went as far as to warn me to be careful about what I wrote because it could jeopardize the future of my 6-year-old son should he prove talented enough for select soccer.
Another parent, Carolee Aderhold, a mother of three who has been involved in select soccer for the past 10 years, just resigned as the under-11 commissioner of the Classic League because she's weary of the politics and skullduggery. "It's getting ugly out there," Aderhold says. "I could write a novel."
Politics aside, many parents have soured on select soccer for more basic reasons. "Coaches have begun to care more about winning and their paychecks than they do about the kids and their development," says one mother, an eight-year veteran of select. "They tell you at the beginning how they want to become such an important part of your family--that they'll be at your child's wedding some day. Then they turn around and berate you and your child if he's having a bad day. Gee, what happened to being part of the family?"
She says her two children burned out on club soccer this year and told her they wanted to drop out. The coaches lectured her that quitting select soccer was too important a decision to be left to children.
"There was a time when I would have talked them back into it, when I would have kept them up to all hours and drove all over creation to keep them in soccer," she says, "but not anymore."
Diego Castro is still stunned over being summarily dismissed from his job as coach of three Genesis soccer teams. Castro has a reputation for being exceedingly fair with his players, for trying to teach the values of sports--discipline, teamwork, loyalty--and for caring about player development as much or more than about winning.
Some say being a nice guy, ironically, is what got Castro in trouble in the first place.
Like many kids in his native country of Chile, Castro learned the basics of soccer before he learned to talk. His passion for the sport continued when he and his family moved to England, then Los Angeles, where he played on school teams. He turned pro at age 18, playing for a Chilean team. For the next decade he played for a variety of pro teams here and abroad, including for the Sidekicks.
By the 1990s, pay for professional soccer players--which has never been very high--began drying up as leagues crumbled. Castro supplemented playing pro ball with a job as an assistant coach for the men's team at University of North Texas, where he had gone back to school for a degree in history. When the men's soccer program was axed, he turned his attention to competitive youth soccer.
A boyish-looking 34, with the massive thighs common among lifelong soccer players--Castro was in his third year of coaching with the Genesis club when the 1995-'96 season started. He and his wife, Kathy, a former star professional soccer player herself, coached five Genesis teams between them. The club had 13 teams in all, but only the Castros' teams were playing in the preeminent Classic League, which gave the club a cachet.
This year, about 45 10-year-old kids competed for 16 slots on Castro's '85 team. One of the boys was the son of the club manager. Smaller and slower than most of the other candidates, the boy was the weakest of all 45 players, Castro says, but he put the boy on the team anyway. "His father had contributed an incredible amount to the club and I felt his son deserved a place on the team--if he was willing to work hard and had a good attitude, which he did," Castro says. "But I also felt it was my duty to tell them both that developing skills takes a long time. He needed to be patient because he wasn't going to see a lot of playing time in the beginning."
The boy averaged only about 10 minutes per 60-minute game, more in scrimmages, which didn't count in the standings.
Castro spent the fall trying to mold the boys into a cohesive body and teach them to play strategically. "It was exciting to watch the kids, who didn't know each other before, to come together as a real team," says Gordon Hunter, whose son is on the team. "I fell in love with the game, even as it was played by 10-year-olds. To see them working their way down the field, finding a niche in the defense, moving the ball around as they got into formation, helping each other out, it was a joy to watch--and unique. Hockey is sort of a whirlwind. Football is interrupted by downs and huddles and time-outs. Baseball is so laid-back. Soccer has a tempo, a flow."
One night in midseason, Castro stopped by the Garland home of club president Butch Stokes to pick up his paycheck, the $2,100 he received monthly, year-round, for coaching three teams. Stokes surprised Castro with a new club policy: All team members must play at least one-third of each game. Stokes said the policy would placate several parents who were unhappy with the playing time.
"In theory, it was an admirable policy," Castro says, "but to implement it in midseason was wrong. No other team in the league had such a rule. It would put us at a distinct disadvantage and make us a laughing stock."
After calling the other coaches, Castro says, it was apparent that the new rule was instigated by a Genesis board member who was upset that his son played so little. All but two team parents wrote glowing letters to Stokes in support of Castro and expressing vehement opposition to the new policy.
"I am most impressed with the way in which [Castro] treats all the boys on the team," wrote Melissa Bouldin. "Our children are treated much differently from those on most clubs. It is refreshing to see that there is at least one professional coach who realizes that these are children and not a commodity."
When several other Genesis team managers and coaches demanded an open meeting to discuss the situation, along with other grievances, Stokes fired Castro. Stokes did offer Castro the chance to stay on for the rest of the season as a guest coach--without pay. Castro refused because he thought the firing unfounded and the guest-coach offer insulting. Stokes inserted himself as coach of record for the team on the official team paperwork, but never showed up for any practices. After the firing, Stokes called a meeting for the team parents. None showed up, figuring the damage had already been done.
Reached at his office at Texas Instruments, where he is a program manager, Stokes says he has no interest in rehashing the events, except to say, "Winning is personally important to me, but with children it is not that high on the list. Diego and I had different philosophies. He was not fired because of that difference, but the way he reacted when he realized we meant what we said."
Unsure whether the club president could fire a coach against the parents' wishes, Steve Hancock, the manager of Genesis '85, asked the NTSSA to meet to clarify the rules, but Herb Carter, NTSSA youth director, refused. The association warned the team that they could not leave the club unless the parents of every member of the team agreed. The parents of only two--the boy in question and his best friend, who was playing on scholarship for the team--were against leaving. Castro's other two teams did leave and renamed themselves Exodus for the remainder of the season.
The NTSSA's Carter wrote a harsh letter to the Genesis '85 parents. He blamed the parents and Castro for causing the predicament in which they found themselves. He castigated them for making angry calls to his office, for allegedly defacing Stokes' Garland home--it had been egged over Halloween--and for the sign disparaging the Genesis club which they brandished at the Celtic Tournament.
He added, ominously: "You and the '85 parents are currently exposed in regard to violations of NTSSA rules and ethics, and are individually responsible and accountable to the state office."
The parents, rebuffed by the only authority to which they could turn, were left to answer the questions of their bewildered children. One boy, a star player for Castro's team of players younger than 15 who mentored a 10-year-old on the '85 team, told his mother: "You always taught me to play by the rules. See where it gets you?"
The Dallas Texans Soccer Club, the brash upstart that in just three years has come to dominate almost every age division in the Classic League, is resented by virtually every other club for, among other things, cherry-picking the best players from the other clubs--allegedly luring some of them at times other than during the two-week League-imposed summer recruiting period--by making big promises of playing time, spots on the state and regional teams, and the prospects of college scholarships. Critics of the Dallas Texans reserve special enmity for the team's founder and head coach, Hassan Nazari, a former star on the Iranian national team who they claim has imbued his club with a win-at-all-costs mentality.
They call him the Satan of Select Soccer.
If Hassan Nazari is, in fact, the devil, then hell smells a lot like the men's cologne counter at Neiman Marcus, and Satan dresses like a GQ model. Clad in a navy blazer, matching wool scarf, and a two-day stubble, and perfumed to a fare-thee-well, Hassan Nazari makes no bones about his ambition to bring youth soccer to a new level in North Texas by creating a supercharged franchise of the best players and best coaches. Nazari dismisses his critics as simply jealous of the Dallas Texans' success.
Nazari, the youngest of five children, was orphaned by the age of 5. From an early age, he was passionate about soccer. At 16, he was the youngest player on Iran's national team. He played for Iran in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal and in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. In the early 1980s he arrived in Dallas to play for the now-defunct Tornados and became involved in youth soccer.
For nine years, Nazari coached several teams in the Storm Soccer Club. But Nazari was getting restless. He wanted to create something exceptional. "I wanted a club that would be able to compete nationally," he explains, "not just one or two teams, but all the teams in the club. I am very competitive. I am a Jerry Jones-type person."
He traveled the country studying the most successful teams: the St. Louis Busch, a club sponsored by the beer manufacturer; the Clearwater Chargers in Florida; the La Jolla Nomads; and the Houston Texans, which is run by Nazari's old friend, Roy Reese. Nazari was impressed with these clubs' high level of professional coaching and their individual and team achievements. Reese agreed to help Nazari start a Dallas division of the Texans and three years ago, in the middle of the season, Nazari launched the Dallas Texans, filling his roster by luring the best teams from the Storm club and winning the everlasting resentment of the other clubs.
Nazari says he wants to create "not just good soccer players, but good human beings." But it is the victories of his 18 teams on the field that Nazari brags about. Besides snagging first place in several age groups in the Classic League, his under-14 and under-12 Texans both won first place in the Dallas Cup, one of the most prestigious youth tournaments in the world. Last summer, his under-16 team won the Gothia Cup in Sweden--in front of 30,000 spectators--the first time a U.S. team has won that tournament in any age group. One of his under-17 players competed in the World Cup on the U.S. team. By his count, 30 of his players have gotten scholarships to colleges.
The Dallas Texans are sponsored by the sportswear manufacturer, Xara, which gives Nazari's players discounts on uniforms. Nazari and the Houston Texans are in the midst of negotiations with Nike, which he says is interested in putting together a sponsorship package. "Soccer has given me everything I need and want, everything I dreamed for: love, fame, money, friends."
He shakes his head. "When you are successful you have enemies. The only complaint I have about success is that you are always alone."
The anger of the other clubs reached a fever pitch last year. One night at the beginning of the 1994-'95 fall season, representatives from more than 60 percent of the select soccer clubs gathered at the Harvey Hotel in North Dallas--the official hotel of NTSSA--to air their grievances against the Texans. They complained that Nazari approached their star players in midseason to encourage them to play for him. Some managers complained that Nazari had offered their players--who were not financially needy--promises of scholarships and free shoes to play for him. Others alleged that Nazari, who is also a staff coach for the state Olympic Development Program, used his position to promise players slots on state ODP teams.
More than a half-dozen of the people in the room put their complaints against Nazari in writing and sent them to the governing board of the Classic League. The Classic League Appeals and Discipline committee voted to sanction Nazari and his team: The Texans were not allowed to recruit any Classic Division 1 players the next year during tryouts and Nazari was on probation for two years. If he did anything wrong again, he would be banned from coaching in this area.
But Nazari appealed the decision to the NTSSA board, which threw out all of the Classic League's sanctions. The Classic League, in turn, appealed to the appeals and discipline committee, which decided to place Nazari on probation for a year.
Nazari says the other clubs feared the Texans so much that they would do anything to stop him. "There is no such thing as recruiting illegally," he says. "The whole sport is based on recruiting. We're a youth organization. We don't offer anyone money. We've had enough success in the last few years. Our record speaks for itself."
One North Dallas parent says that other teams have given scholarships as recruiting inducements, but that no one complained because the teams haven't been as successful as the Texans. What parents are worried about is that the Dallas Texans will become so powerful and the competition so lopsided that the rest of the teams will collapse.
"He may call that sour grapes," says one mother. "I call it unhealthy competition."
Nazari says that instead of running him down, other clubs should be imitating him. "For soccer to grow and be successful, we need a lot of clubs like the Texans," he says. "For our players to get better, we need a lot of good and successful teams we can play against."
On the heels of the squabble with Nazari came what some soccer insiders have taken to calling "Sonnygate."
On a Sunday evening last March, Sonny Newsom, the under-13 commissioner for the Classic League Division 1, received a phone call at his home from Jeannie Bradford, a parent from the Texans, who also is the registrar for the Dallas North Chamber of Commerce Soccer Association, to discuss a player registration. Newsom gave the information to Bradford, but as he was hanging up the phone, he heard Bradford talking to someone else on the line--another woman actively involved in select soccer in Dallas. Newsom realized that it had been a conference call. When he heard them discuss recruiting during the playing season--which could potentially be a rule violation--Newsom decided to tape the conversation.
According to sources who have heard the tape, the two women discussed an orchestrated effort to report coaches from other clubs--including Sidekicks star Tatu--to soccer authorities for alleged recruiting violations. They also shared gossip that other people involved with the Texans were thinking of reporting certain coaches in other clubs to the Internal Revenue Service.
Newsom--who would not be interviewed for this story--wasn't sure what to do with the tape, according to sources close to the incident. He turned it over to the Classic League president, Leonard Robertson, and the actions and discipline committee director, Paul Ditto. Ditto went to the Texans' board president at the time and told him any such activities described on the tape would not be tolerated.
The episode seemed to blow over--until late May, when the two women on the tape filed ethics charges against Newsom with NTSSA, complaining that he had illegally taped their conversation. The Texans club president also went to the NTSSA, Ditto confirms, claiming Ditto had threatened him with the tape.
In her letter of complaint to the board president, Bradford wrote: "I can't believe that the game of soccer that is for our children has adults committing these antics."
In her letter, Bradford explained that she believed for some time that her phone calls were being taped, and, "I would from time to time allude to imaginary incidents and hope if I was being recorded, than [sic] the incident would be acted upon by the perpetrators."
Bradford refused to discuss the taping incident with the Observer. "I'm not going to go into it," she says. "It shouldn't have happened. It was very bizarre."
After a hearing on the matter, at which the Classic League president Robertson testified on Newsom and Ditto's behalf, the actions and discipline committee of the NTSSA, which refused to listen to the tape, voted to put Ditto and Robertson on probation for a year for their handling of the situation, according to sources close to the league leadership. The committee gave Newsom a three-year sentence, suspending him from administrative duties in soccer for a year, and putting him on probation for the following two years.
"I've never seen a grown man so deflated in all my life," says one of Newsom's close friends.
This fall season, select soccer was once again rocked by controversy, and again the Texans were at the controversy's epicenter.
During the Classic League qualifying tournament in August, the manager for another team thought one of the Texans' under-11 boys looked like a kid he had seeR>n on another under-11 team the year before. With a little checking, the league officials discovered that the boy was in fact too old to play in the under-11 age group. Later they determined the boy's birth certificate had been altered.
The Classic League permanently banned the boy and his guardian from the league and penalized the team. The team was allowed to play all of its games, but the games were recorded as forfeits.
"I was pretty upset," says Jim Rosenthal, whose son Jeffrey was in his first year of select and played goalie for the team. "Here we were paying all this money, my kid was working hard, and the games didn't count."
The other shoe dropped when the team manager discovered that the guardian's own son--who was also on the team--was also too old. The league gave the team the same punishment for the spring season. Nazari confirms that the incident occurred.
"We were angry, our kids were angry," says Rosenthal, "but I guess it was one of life's lessons that cheating doesn't get you anywhere."
Rosenthal's son, Jeffrey, is equally philosophical about the matter: "What was that parent teaching his kid?"
"Sometimes I think if adults weren't involved, it would be a good thing all around," says Rosenthal.
The bickering and backbiting of the past two years seems to have quieted down just in time for the opening of select soccer's spring season this weekend. Diego and Kathy Castro's Genesis teams--including the ill-fated Genesis '85 boys team--have been allowed to defect. Several clubs were eager to pick up the Castros and their Classic League teams, but finally decided to join Inter, the club run by the grandparent duo of Dick and Jackie Stanford. A few weeks ago, the Genesis board met and agreed to refund the teams' dues that parents had paid in advance. But the board voted to keep several hundred dollars of the money, in order to fully refund the fall season dues of the two players from Genesis '85 who chose to remain.
The NTSSA recently made some rulings to limit recruiting abuses. The most important rule prohibits players from changing teams in midseason except under extenuating circumstances, and then only after an NTSSA hearing.
Hassan Nazari is still involved with his Texans and the Olympic Development Program, but people say he seems to be keeping a lower profile this year. "That's true," Nazari says. "I was hurt by what happened but, you know, we're still winning."
The clubs which met at the Harvey Hotel to vent their frustrations at the Dallas Texans say they have stronger, more trusting relationships with each other than they did before.
"Nothing like a common enemy to bring friendships and kinships," says one veteran of the recent soccer battles.
Still, some parents think that, given what happened with the Texans and with Sonny Newsom, NTSSA really doesn't want to face up to select soccer's problems.
Other parents hope some good has come from the controversy. "In order to get a flower to grow, sometimes you have to throw some fertilizer on it," says Jackie Stanford. "The bottom line is that we're dealing with kids' hopes and dreams here, and they have to feel good about themselves.
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