Soccer greats from the CYC sports program of the archdiocese must have been smiling on Aug. 20 with the announcement by Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber that #MLS4TheLou succeeded in bringing an MLS expansion team to St. Louis.
The St. Louis ownership group, led by Andy Taylor and Carolyn Kindle Betz of Enterprise Holdings and Jim Kavanaugh of World Wide Technology, was awarded a franchise as the league expands to 30 teams. The team will play in a planned 22,500-capacity stadium in the West Downtown neighborhood of the city.
Among those celebrating the news was Bill McDermott, a former soccer player at St. Philip Neri Parish, McBride High School and Saint Louis University who is a soccer broadcaster known as “Mr. Soccer” in St. Louis. “For the Baby Boomer generation, this is the end result of a long journey that began for a goodly number of us, if not every one of us, in the various parishes,” he said.
It began for him, McDermott said, in the Walnut Park neighborhood of St. Louis with the CYC sports program and where “we played on a regular basis on the schoolyard, which was immediately adjacent to the church where we thought we were doing not only God’s duty but Msgr. Meyer’s duty when he said he wanted us to grow up playing in the shadows of the church.”
Msgr. Louis Meyer, longtime director of the CYC sports program, which is now part of the Catholic Youth Apostolate, also asked the former players to give something back to the program and sports.
At the time, no select teams or academy teams existed in St. Louis, nor was a professional team located here, but St. Louis was considered “the first soccer capital of the United States,” McDermott said. A CYC all-star team played on a yearly basis against teams of international fame such as Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and more. “It gave the sport tremendous exposure in our city,” McDermott said.
To see that soccer is playing a part in the civic renaissance today in St. Louis, “is tremendously satisfying,” he added.
Tom Michler of New Dimensions Soccer in St. Louis said that knowledgeable fans in St. Louis know that the foundation of what has been called a “hotbed for soccer” was the CYC.
“Immigrants moving into our city in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, in part filling our schools, complemented the high level of play that the CYC was known for,” Michler said. “Some may recall CYC All Stars playing against England Club, Sheffield United, in the early 1960s, a feat that would be unimaginable these days.”
From the playgrounds of St. Philip Neri, to the breeding grounds of St. Norbert, St. Dismas and St. Sabina in north St. Louis County, and now St. Margaret of Scotland and St. Cecilia in south St. Louis, he said, “St. Louis continues to produce an exceptional level of soccer talent, expressed through the traditions of the CYC.”
New Dimensions is a nonprofit that provides instruction in moral and character development. It provides opportunities in the sport to children living in under-resourced areas and integrates immigrants into the St. Louis community via soccer and sportsmanship. Michler said that “we’re seeing a resurgence of this era due to the number of immigrant/refugee families that now call St. Louis their home. These are exciting soccer times for our city, and in large part, we have the CYC to thank.”
Kenny is a staff writer for the Review and a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Oakville.