Don Gardner Shares The History of Soccer Association for Youth

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In 1967, Howard Bruns and Tom Stevens created Soccer Association for Youth based on a simple principal: Everybody plays. Fifty years later, SAY Soccer is a national organization with 100,000 players on 12,000 teams in 33 states and Washington, D.C. Founding board member Don Gardner, whose Fourth Street office at Keating Meuthing & Klekamp is on the same block as FC Cincinnati’s new store, shares the history of SAY’s kickoff.

Photograph by Annette Navarro

“I had no prior knowledge of [soccer] whatsoever. Never played it. I knew the game was popular among the German community here in town, and the first contact that was made was through the Donauschwaben, a German club. From a number of different standpoints it all came together.

Greater cincinnati had no youth soccer. Howard Bruns was an executive at McGregor Sporting Goods and he met up with Tom Stevens, a Finneytown Athletic Association official who had the same idea. They decided to invite others interested [in] athletics and soccer; came up with a founders group of eight men from various parts of Cincinnati; and organized the effort to set up the rules and structure of finding teams and a charter recognition program.

[The founding board] had to establish the size of the field, the various age levels, and the rules. The one rule that should [be stressed] is that SAY soccer, from the very beginning, was a recreational program. It established what they called a player participation rule. That rule required that every player on every team played at least a half of the game.

In the first year there were 28 teams with approximately 400 players. When the program started it was just boys, but within five years or so, girls came into the program, too.

From the earliest days, there were parents who liked the idea that these kids weren’t going to sit on the bench, like they sat on the bench for baseball. They were going to play. They didn’t have to have athletic skills. Anyone can kick a ball. That spirited things as much as anything.” —as told to Alyssa Brandt

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