1962 – Around the World and Close to Home
For 13 days in October, the U.S. is in the grips of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Johnny Carson begins a 30-year run of hosting the Tonight Show and James Meredith becomes the first Black to enroll at the University of Mississippi. Washington welcomes the world to its doorstep for six months with the Seattle World’s Fair, which features the tallest structure west of the Mississippi, the Space Needle.
While Washingtonians generally take no notice of Brazil’s second straight World Cup championship, the world’s game makes significant in-roads. Seattle Hungarians become the state’s first club to compete in a regional – indeed international – league, soccer is adopted as the official sport of the Century 21 Exposition, and varsity collegiate soccer is initiated for the first time, at the University Washington.
To this point, campuses featured only self-funded club programs. Washington’s had existed for several years, off and on. In 1958, a group known as VISA (Visiting International Students Association) adopted the Husky Soccer Club moniker while playing in the state’s senior first division, and in 1961 they reached the Knockout Cup final and win the annual 5-a-side tournament. It was a team comprised almost exclusively of international students. Ama Oji of Nigeria captained that squad.
Washington athletic director Joe Kearney announces the varsity program’s formation as a “minor sport” on Oct. 4. Graduate student Ron Jepson, 26, is chosen as head coach and soon begins practices. Jepson, who moved with his family from England to Seattle in 1953, plays for Buchan Bakers. With no other varsity programs in Washington, during the fall the Huskies play a hybrid schedule of Canadian schools (Victoria and British Columbia) on Saturdays and state league matches on Sundays.
Some players were members of other varsity teams. “I had a ski-jumper, Tom Nord,” recalled Jepson in 2015. “He was brought over on scholarship to ski. I had a Swedish guy on a gymnastics scholarship. There was quite a contingent from Africa.” The first roster lists 17 lettermen, including Jepson, and players originating from Spain, Canada, Turkey, Israel, West Germany, Liberia, Norway, Nigeria and France.
Practice space is at a premium. Sometimes the team performs drills around the Quad, but their preference is Denny Field. They are chased from the latter by P.E. instructors. Games are played at Lower Woodland Park. The equipment manager, says Jepson, is very helpful. Uniforms, footwear and balls are quickly sourced and provided. “It was like becoming a pro player after all the scratching around we’d done before,” notes Jepson. “It was a wonderful experience. They wanted us to look presentable.”
The Huskies first outing is Oct. 14 against the newly formed Century 21 team. The following weekend, UW wins its inaugural collegiate match at Victoria, 2-0. Milan Stolarik, an Ontario native, and Edvin Ronnestad, a Norwegian from the ski team, score. After completing the collegiate portion of their schedule, the players opt to pull-out of the state league due to the demands of studies and upcoming holidays. Jepson shares the administration is relieved going forward the Huskies would only play collegiate opposition.
Century 21’s presence in the state league begins amidst great pageantry, with dignitaries and media attending the made-for-media announcement by World’s Fair officials at Lower Woodland. Efforts to make soccer the fair’s official sport date back to May but come to fruition just weeks before the event closes, when the Seafair queen lifts a “dainty white slipper” to perform the ceremonial first kick. Brazilian Ruy Pereira cobbles together a team from 11 nationalities across five continents, all coached and skippered by Michael Crawford, an Australian studying at the University of Washington. The fair closes in October and by the following month the team gets a new sponsor, E&E Meats.
Seattle Hungarians strike out on their own after winning back-to-back state league championships. Owner Balint Ducz successfully applies to join the B.C.-based, semipro Pacific Coast League in August. White Center Stadium, located some 12 miles south of Woodland Park, becomes the Hungarians’ home but proves a challenge for fans to find, beginning with the opener Sept. 16 vs. St. Andrew’s. Practically unbeatable in the state, the Magyars find the PCL much more challenging, going seven games before achieving the first victory.