The Formative Years
The earliest notable attempts at organized youth soccer in the Town of Smithtown were in 1971 and were confined to a small group of families whose children played under the auspices of the YMCA. In those early years the soccer program consisted of 40-50 boys who kicked the ball around on unlined fields. Coaches for the teams were fathers who had played while growing up in Europe and were recruited by program founders Russ Goss and Craig Langworst. Soccer was one of the summer recreational activities offered by the YMCA and was sandwiched between baseball and basketball as a four-week program.
In 1976, the YMCA soccer program featured only three multiple-year age groups, juniors, intermediates, and seniors, with mixed teams of boys and girls (if girls dared to play). Teams could be comprised of third graders playing alongside eighth graders, just to fill in the rosters, and girls playing soccer was virtually unheard of. Each age group consisted of a maximum of four teams that played each other throughout the summer on the New York Avenue School fields. Smithtown youth soccer in the 70's was neither as organized nor as popular as it is today. Even today’s necessities such as nets, corner flags and field lines were considered luxuries or were unheard of in Smithtown!
John Friedrichs, one of the eventual founders of the Smithtown Kickers Soccer Club, coached a travel soccer team for a youth soccer club in Huntington in 1968. In 1973, Friedrichs’ successful team was the first Long Island team to win a State Cup Championship. Friedrichs, who lived in Smithtown, formed another travel team in Huntington in 1975 for his oldest son Paul. In 1976, wanting to play games closer to home, Friedrichs formed two travel teams in Smithtown under the banner of the YMCA and the Smithtown "Y" Soccer Club was formed.
In order to offer other children in the YMCA soccer program the broader competitive experiences of travel soccer he and several other men (Vic Iaia,YMCA Treasurer, and Stan Meyers, YMCA President) formed two additional boys travel soccer teams for Spring 1977. All teams competed for the Smithtown "Y" Soccer Club in the Long Island Junior Soccer League, which was still in its early years. For the first time, the YMCA would offer both recreational and competitive soccer programs. By the spring of 1979 the Smithtown "Y" Soccer Club had grown to fourteen teams competing in the LIJSL and had even fielded its first girl’s team.
Founding of the Smithtown Kickers
In 1979, just as in the past, the YMCA continued to add all funds generated by the Smithtown "Y" Soccer Club program to their general fund and use much of the revenue for non-soccer activities. There were many improvements that the soccer program needed that required increased funding, but the loss of revenue to other activities curtailed needed improvements. It was becoming evident that the improving group of Smithtown players would need a more soccer driven organization to lead them into the 80’s and be their advocate for the increasingly popular sport of soccer. Soccer as a youth sport in the Town of Smithtown was expanding exponentially just as it was growing across the nation and it required dedicated leadership!
Nine families from the travel soccer teams took it upon themselves to set the foundation for a new soccer club in Smithtown that would use all revenue generated by soccer to provide soccer-only programs for Smithtown youth. They each contributed $200 for Long Island Junior Soccer League (LIJSL) club membership filing fees and to provide some working capital for the new Smithtown club. Nine men (Frank Braider, John Feduniec, John Friedrichs, Tom Harris, Vic Iaia, Stan Meyers, Julius Mattei, Frank Morin, and Andy Ross) filed a petition with the LIJSL to form The Smithtown Kickers Soccer Club and were accepted as a member club for the fall ’79 season.
The Smithtown Kickers Soccer Club was formed as only a travel soccer club, and, as part of an agreement with the "Y", the ‘Y’ continued to offer the in-house soccer program. Ten Smithtown Kickers travel teams were registered for the fall of 1979, the Smithtown Kickers first season. By comparison, 20 years later in the spring of 1999, the Smithtown Kickers Soccer Club registered 27 travel teams, comprised of 12 girls’ teams and 15 boys’ teams and has a wonderful recreational in-house program!
The first Smithtown Kickers executive board meeting was called to order on August 7, 1979 and Frank Morin was appointed the club’s first president. The meeting lasted for over three hours and many things were discussed such as the appointment of coaches and the methods of player selection in team formation. The travel registration fee was set at $28 for one child with a $4 decrease for each additional child. A time consuming discussion took place regarding the new club’s policies on player selection for A and B teams; this discussion would prove to be a major topic of debate for the club in future years.
The first season of the club saw many noteworthy events. The first Annual Smithtown International Tournament was held on the weekend of August 9-11, initiated by the "Y" Soccer Club with the Kickers taking full responsibility the next year. On August 21, 1979, the certificate of incorporation was read and signed. The Smithtown Kickers’ constitution was approved on October 16, 1979. Over the next twenty years, the constitution and its working by-laws would be amended and refined many times; the by-laws were re-indexed in 1983 after many early changes and a formal rewrite of the Constitution was approved in late 1987 and published for the Club membership in 1988. The attention to detail of the Club founders and the care for the inheritance that was passed on through the years has always served as a solid foundation for the Club.
The first election for the Smithtown Kickers Board of Officers election was held on December 18, 1980. Frank Morin was thanked for his year of dedicated service as the first president of the Kickers and for helping with the development of the Smithtown Kickers Soccer Club. Vic Iaia was elected as the second president of the club, the second of nine men to hold the office through 1999. The second year of the Club turned out to be a year of tremendous accomplishment for the young Smithtown Kickers Soccer Club as the Club took great strides on behalf of the youth of Smithtown.
At a meeting of the executive board on May 7, 1980, a discussion began regarding the possibility of developing an in-house program for the Smithtown Kickers.
The coaches and Board of Officers agreed that the Kickers would add a recreational in-house program for the Town of Smithtown. The goal was to provide a better program for the children than was offered by the YMCA, a program that had both spring and fall seasons instead of just the summer program offered by the YMCA. It would also serve as a feeder program to the more competitive travel program that older players were involved in. (In the early years travel soccer was started at the ambitious age of U8). In 1981, Tom Harris, the Smithtown Kickers registrar, registered 200 children for the first Smithtown Kickers in-house program. Over the next twenty years, the in-house program has increased sevenfold and now boasts over 1300 children!
The original Smithtown Kickers Board of Officers was comprised of seven officers: John Feduniec, John Friedrichs, Vic Iaia, Julio Mattei, Stan Meyers, Frank Morin and Andy Ross. Today, due to a change in the Constitution in 1987, the Board has nine officers. In the early years of the club, Board meetings were often held at the homes of the officers, and many general meetings were held at the Suffolk Child Development Center. Over the years, the need for a club home base became apparent. In 1988, the Smithtown Kickers began renting space at the Elks Lodge on Edgewood Avenue in Smithtown for a meeting room and used the basement for equipment storage. A devastating fire at the Elks Lodge in February of 1994 forced the Kickers to move their headquarters and equipment to other locations. Since then, meetings have been held at the school district administration facilities at New York Avenue School with equipment stored in a trailer close by.
The original uniform colors of the Smithtown Kickers were yellow and royal blue! The club owned the uniforms. The original Club patch was designed after a soccer ball and a rainbow and was made from many colors. Parents provided a $10 deposit for the uniform that was returned at the end of the season upon return of the uniform. On November 17, 1979, the Smithtown Kickers Soccer Club’s executive board voted to change the Club colors to navy blue and white. The uniforms and Club patch became the distinctive colors and pattern that are recognized all over Long Island to this day!
After a few years of keeping track of uniforms and rentals, the club changed policy on uniform ownership and had local sports suppliers provide uniforms for purchase by individual players and their families.
The first Smithtown International Tournament was held on the weekend of August 9 through August 11, 1979. This international tournament proved to be a great success during the 80’s and was held on the first weekend in August for 12 years. The tournament brought teams from across the globe including such far away places as Canada, Mexico, Taiwan, and Europe. During its peak years, the tournament hosted nearly 200 teams. President Ronald Reagan even acknowledged the success of the tournament in a mail gram sent to the club in 1983.
Unfortunately, the recession of the mid-80s led to the eventual downfall of the very popular and prosperous event for the Smithtown Kickers Soccer Club.
As it became too expensive for foreign teams to travel to the United States to play in the Mid-Summer Classic, the tournament began relying on local teams to fill out most of the tournament berths. The tournament drew fewer teams than it once had and did not have enough of a commitment from Long Island teams because it was held in early August, before most travel teams had started preparation for the Fall season. With the threat of losing money, the Smithtown Kickers Mid-Summer International Classic tournament was canceled in 1992 after twelve successful years. At that time, the tournament was the longest running youth soccer tournament on Long Island and had etched a footnote in the history of youth soccer on the Island!
In 1983, the ’72 Roughnecks were the first Smithtown Kickers team to ever win a Chase Cup Division title. The Chase Cup was a single elimination tournament run by the LIJSL and sponsored by the Chase Manhattan Bank that determined the top team in all age groups for both boys and girls every spring in the LIJSL. The Club has come a long way since then, with many other teams winning Chase Cup titles in their age groups over the years. In the mid 90’s Waldbaum’s took over sponsorship of the LIJSL tournament and major, intermediate and minor champions are crowned in most age groups. Every year the Kickers are well represented at the tournament by their travel teams.
The Club Moves Ahead with the Times
The in-house program, and hence the travel program, is much stronger than when it began in 1981. The first all girls intramural division was formed in 1988. Separate girls’ divisions existed throughout the in-house program by 1990 and mod soccer (small sided) was introduced. In 1992, micro soccer(3v3) was introduced in the clinic and became the basis for the entire in-house program. In the ensuing years, 3v3, 4v4, 6v6, 8v8, 9v9, and 11v11 became the developmental stages of the program. Today, all divisions, except the seniors, of the Smithtown Kickers in-house program play small-sided games. The concept is that in small-sided games, each child will have a better opportunity to learn and develop the individual and team skills that are necessary to be a strong soccer player. The plan is working and many young Kickers travel teams have been very successful in league play and at tournaments and other events such as the Chase Cup (now Waldbaum’s Challenge Cup) and the State Cup. Every year the quality of new player entering the travel program at the U10 level for the Kickers is at a higher skill level than the players from the previous year!
Finding field space was a problem for the Smithtown Kickers from the very beginnings of the club, as it is for all soccer clubs on Long Island. Over the twenty years that the club has existed, the home field has changed many times. Games have been played at school district facilities including St. James Elementary, Smithtown Elementary School, Nesconset Elementary, Suffolk Lutheran, New York Avenue School, High Schools West and East, Great Hollow Junior High and Nesequake Junior High. The in-house program currently uses the fields at Smithtown Elementary School, New York Avenue School and St. James Elementary School and works with the school district to improve and maintain the condition of these locations.
In 1981, the Town of Smithtown dedicated the Montclair Avenue fields, and the Kickers used the fields for a number of years. Problems arose with the upkeep on the Montclair Ave. fields, and today the fields do not even exist.
The Veteran’s Memorial Park fields on Moriches Rd. were finished by the Town of Smithtown in May of 1992, and the Smithtown Kickers moved their travel teams’ home games to the lush, green fields. Today, an 8v8 field is being added at the Moriches Rd fields complex in the hope of supporting more home games. The soccer complex maintained by the Town of Smithtown on Moriches Rd. is the envy of all soccer clubs on Long Island!
The Smithtown Kickers have always hosted a summer soccer camp for their travel players to give them the opportunity to be coached by professional coaches. The Kickers have employed NOGA, North America Soccer Camps and Eastern Soccer Camps as their camp program to better prepare the players for the fall season.
In the summer of 1990, the LIJSL held its first camp at fields in Brentwood. The LIJSL camp program has grown and offers camps all over the island,including one in Smithtown since 1992 for all players from the intramural program. Graduates (former players) of the LIJSL program return from college to coach at the LIJSL camps. Many Smithtown Kickers players have coached at the camp over the years!
Another big change that arose in youth soccer in the 90’s on Long Island was the advent of paid professional trainers being used to supplement the team coaching staff. Most Kicker travel teams now employ trainers during the season. The Club also employs professional trainers in the intramural program to run a weekly training clinic for coaches. The original ideas of the Kickers founding families to offer the best soccer program possible to the youth of Smithtown are still the basis for all programs in the Kickers Club!
Special Annual Programs and Events
As early as 1981, the Smithtown Kickers began to discuss the possibility of beginning a Special Soccer program. The idea was not put into action until 1997 when Ronnie Whalen started a Special Soccer Program for soccer players with special needs. She believes that every child should have the opportunity to play sports and that the Kickers were the perfect fit for a program for these players. The Kickers Special Team plays every weekend during the season and is also involved in tournament play during the season with other LIJSL soccer clubs at special soccer events. What a time the players have! Now all children in Smithtown are offered the opportunity to play soccer at the level of their skill and competitive desire. The Kickers’ founding fathers’ main objective has been met for all the children of Smithtown!
Sometimes, as is the case with any team sport, problems arise between teams and coaches for various reasons. The Smithtown Kickers decided that one of the best ways to be rid of such problems was to create events that all members of the club had in common. A club picnic was started in May of 1992 and has continued to grow for the last six years. The picnic, first organized by Phyllis Reed and now run by Patty Stoddard, was an attempt to bring the club together in celebration of a successful year. It seems to have worked because, rain or shine; Smithtown Kickers of all ages flock to the site of the annual picnic at Hoyt Farm on the first Sunday in June. The picnic is such a popular event in Smithtown that the Town of Smithtown moved their annual "Smithtown Day" to the following weekend to avoid conflicts with the picnic!
The First Annual Travel Awards dinner was held at the Watermill Inn in 1994 to honor the travel players and their coaches. Originally organized by Phyllis Reed and now run by Julie Mulhern, the Awards dinner has been a great success in acknowledging the accomplishments of each travel team. Each travel team selects two players as MVP for the spring season, and the players are presented with an award and given a free dinner at the special night. What makes it so great is that the players vote for the MVP with no input from the coaches. The travel coaches also cast a vote for the Travel Coach of the Year who is also presented with a plaque at the dinner. The Awards dinner is the perfect opportunity for the travel program to come together to congratulate the graduating classes, enjoy each others company, and to show the younger teams of the club that soccer and success go hand in hand. Club scholarship winners are also honored at the dinner as well as Select players and any other special awards for travel players in the Kickers program. The event grows every year and has progressed from the first year attendance of less than 200 people at the Watermill Inn to 450 in attendance at the 1998 dinner at Flowerfield
In 1982, the Smithtown Kickers Board of Officers voted to award a scholarship to one of its deserving players. The Smithtown Kickers Scholarship was formed and has been awarded to a graduating high school senior ever since. Additionally, Earl Couch started the Ellie Couch Memorial Scholarship in 1986 in memory of his wife Ellie, a dedicated member of the Smithtown Kickers. These scholarships are presented to worthy Smithtown Kickers from the graduating senior class and their U19 team. The candidates submit an application complete with recommendations and transcripts. The scholarship committee reviews the applications and presents the awards at a Board meeting in June to the deserving players. In 1998, the Bob Schmitz Memorial Scholarship was started by the Schmitz family to honor the memory of Bob, a tireless adult volunteer who passed away in 1990 after dedicating many years of service to the Kickers Club.