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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Soccer Thrives in Milwaukee

Jim Cryns on Sports

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Soccer is alive and well in Milwaukee. This is a sport that didn’t exist in my neighborhood when I was a kid, a sport I probably would have played. My 7-year-old daughter loves the sport, and I’m equally pleased when she is exhausted after a practice or game from running around for an hour. What took it so long to catch on here?

According to About.com, there is documented evidence that a game or skill building exercise, involving kicking a ball into a small net, was used by the Chinese military during the Han Dynasty—around the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC. Both the Greeks and ancient Romans played a soccer-type game that resembled modern soccer—although in this early version, teams could consist of up to 27 players!

A man by the name of Hans Mueller was instrumental in bringing soccer to WhitefishBay in the ’70s and by that time I had all but stopped playing sports. Again, Romans were playing soccer and I hadn’t heard of the game in Evanston, IL.

We have the successful Wave, Marquette and UWM have strong and winning programs. Louis Bennett, the most successful coach in Wisconsin-Milwaukee history, moved five miles across town to take over the Marquette program a few years ago. Bennett comes from Bristol, England. Prior to becoming a coach, Bennett played professional soccer for the Milwaukee Wave and other professional teams in New York and Kansas City. "From the beginning, Milwaukee was very special to me. It’s big enough where you don’t feel claustrophobic, and still small enough to make a difference,” Bennett said.

Bennett has influenced the way potential soccer recruits view the school, taking UWM to more NCAA appearances than any other school in the state. "I realized early on after my arrival that my future might be in this city." During an era where coaches are as famous and popular as the players, Bennett says he can’t leave home without being mobbed. "I get recognized quite a bit by soccer people. I guess there aren’t too many quirky Englishmen about."

The coach says the success of Wisconsin soccer teams has made recruitment a little easier because they are going to get a look from the nation’s top prospects. His stellar record as head coach gives Bennett a foothold in the city he loves. "Maybe it means I won’t get fired anytime soon," he quips. "Everyone likes to get a pat on the back. It may sound corny, but I’m a team person. I have these wonderful student athletes for four years and they succeed because they believe in what I said could be done."

Holes

We all know a golfer who is really good, a scratch golfer or well on his way to being one.

I’ve been known to throw a club or two in the creek, whack a tree with a nine-iron, fling a putter into the adjacent woods, watching it sail away like a helicopter. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s when I began to respect golfers for the incredibly talented individuals they actually were. (Interestingly, I began to feel the same way about race-car drivers, at one point unable to understand the skills they also possess.)

As my brother says after one of my errant shots and subsequent tirades, “Do you play everyday?” I respond that I do not, and he replies, ‘”then don’t get upset about it.’” These may have been the most poignant words my brother had ever spoken to me. Why was I getting upset about a sport in which I perform poorly, but only play every so often?

Every golfer wants to be explosive off the tee and have a gentle touch on the green. Tiger Woods can crush a ball more than 300 yards, but he can also nail the 10-foot putt with alarming accuracy.

Jerry Korte, an inventor and putting instructor, knows about confidence. "When you walk on that green, you have to say, ‘I’m the best putter I know. I’m going to make this putt. There’s no putt I cannot make.” That’s easy for him to say. Korte says everybody feels they need help with their swing, but everybody thinks they’re a good putter.

A self-proclaimed student of the game, Korte says he’s broken down the mechanics of the putting stroke. Korte says most people don’t take putting as seriously as the rest of their game. "People are too concerned about getting an extra ten feet on their drives.”

I’d settle for keeping the ball out of the water.