They were unlikely pioneers, this shaggy-haired bunch of teenage boys — rag-tag refugees from other sports going out for the new team on the block.
Soccer was the newest varsity sport for Glens Falls High School that fall, and most of the players were the rawest of rookies.
Few boys in 1973 had ever played soccer for more than a few gym classes at the school. This was a team that learned on the fly.
“We didn’t know enough to know what we didn’t know,” quipped Brad Harrison, then a senior captain and fullback. “It was new to all of us.”
“No youth soccer, no junior high or JV soccer team — the first game we played was the first game for all of us,” said Bill Palmer, then the team’s senior goalie. “Most of us looked at it as a cool sport that we wanted to try. By the end of the year, we were having a blast.”
Players from that inaugural team are in their early 60s now, many of them grandfathers and retirees. But 47 years ago, they were on the ground floor of a program.
In the fall of 1973, the national sports news was centered on the upcoming Battle of the Sexes, the tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King, and on Hank Aaron’s chase of Babe Ruth’s home run record. Grand Funk’s “We’re An American Band” shared the airwaves with Marvin Gaye, the Allman Brothers and Chicago. Long sideburns and longer hair was in.
Sept. 19, 1973, was a sunny, breezy Wednesday near the end of summer at Crandall Park. About 30 soccer pioneers in bright red uniforms stepped onto the field for the first time in an official game. Some wore bandannas to keep their hair out of their faces. Across the field was Cambridge, a small-school soccer power.
“The first game, it was the first time we had a referee — so that was all new for us,” said Mike Palmer, no relation to Bill. He was a senior midfielder and one of several players who had started out playing informal pickup soccer games.
Watching the action was the young man most directly responsible for turning a bunch of raw athletes into a cohesive team — a 25-year-old elementary school teacher named Tom Harrington.
“Most of the kids had never played (soccer) in an organized setting,” said Harrington, who was starting what became a 36-year coaching career. “They hustled and they worked hard, they were hungry and eager to learn.”
The Indians finished a surprising 5-4-1 that first season, a foreshadowing of a successful run just a couple of years later.
“We had good athletes — we were able to win a lot of games without really knowing how to play,” said Kevin McMahon, then a senior wing.
Getting a Glens Falls soccer team on that field didn’t happen overnight.
“We didn’t just put a team together,” said Tim Kyser, then a senior captain and the team’s most-skilled forward. “Some of us had played for two or three years before that.”
In 1973, local television antennas only pulled in four stations. Cable was in its infancy and there were no 24-hour sports networks. Athletic-minded kids had to create their own outlets for sports.
In hometown Glens Falls, as football-centric a town if there ever was, a small but dedicated group of kids had started playing that “other” football in pickup games wherever they could find a field.
Tim Kyser was one of those determined souls. He began playing soccer with a group of older boys from his neighborhood near Crandall Park.
“I got cut from the JV football team, so I was feeling really disheartened,” said Kyser, who recently retired after a long career in the insurance industry in Connecticut. “But a couple of my friends were starting to play pickup soccer games — just grabbing a bunch of guys and going over to the high school or Kensington Road or Crandall Park and playing 5-on-5 or 8-on-8, whatever we could.”
Putt LaMay wasn’t keen on the interlopers, Kyser recalled. LaMay was Glens Falls’ athletic director, retiring from a 20-year career coaching the Indians’ football team. The only other fall sport at Glens Falls at the time was cross country.
“Putt LaMay hated us,” Kyser said with chuckle. “We’d play on the football field and Putt threw us off every time because we were tearing up his field. One of our history teachers, Bill Parks, who was the cross country and track coach, he played a lot with us and taught us the rules.”
The group playing included some upperclassmen who were pushing for a school team, like Steve Kvinlaug, who was from Norway and was a soccer-style kicker for the Indians’ football team.
“That team wouldn’t have even come about if it wasn’t for the class ahead of us,” Mike Palmer said. “There were a bunch of guys like (John) Jacobs, Dave Wright and Steve Kvinlaug who had petitioned to form a team. Unfortunately for them, it didn’t happen till the following season.”
Kyser said a group of boys and their parents went to the school board and finally got the team approved. John Jacobs — who went on to play at Middlebury College despite not playing high school soccer — recalled that several of the soccer-playing members of the Class of '73 actually staged a sit-in in the principal's office, insisting that soccer be provided that fall for the underclassmen. Jacobs is now the Director of Sales and Development for Reliable Racing Supply and Inside Edge Ski & Bike.
The pickup games continued through the summer of 1973. Younger players like Steve Sovetts and Bobby Peets had some skills. Mike Palmer remembered Peets was one of the few kids who had a soccer ball. Other guys joined because their friends were playing.
“It spread by word of mouth,” Bill Palmer said. “Basically it was bring a buddy to practice. Mike Curley got me to play. We were always playing basketball, and I was always going up for rebounds. He said, ‘You can jump and catch, you should go out for goalie.’”
Harrison joined after rehabbing a knee injury he had suffered playing football his junior year.
“I met a whole set of athletic people I hadn’t met before,” said Harrison, who worked in the moving industry in Houston for 30 years before returning home several years ago to care for his father.
Tom Harrington wasn’t too sure about coaching a bunch of soccer neophytes when he was asked to by a group of parents, but he was up for the challenge.
Harrington, who was entering his third year at Sanford Street School, had played soccer at Johnsburg and Castleton State, so he had the experience. He and his twin brother, Tim, had played semipro baseball locally for the Woodbury Lumberjacks, so he was a familiar face to the teenagers in town.
Harrington said the perceived conflict between football and soccer was overblown. He and Putt LaMay had come to an understanding.
“He was concerned that he was going to lose a bunch of football players,” said Harrington, who will be 73 next month. “I told him, ‘I don’t need any 6-4, 250-pound guys on my team, and you don’t need three or four 110-pound boys on your team, either.’ So we agreed that there was room for both.”
It was LaMay who suggested a meeting in the high school gym with parents, most of whom had never seen a soccer match. Harrington could introduce the team, go over the positions and arrange them on the floor so parents could see where they would be playing on the field.
The players remember Harrington as a strict coach who taught the game well, building the team up from the basics of position play into a competitive unit by the end of that first season.
“Tom Harrington was quiet, he was kind of hard-nosed,” Kyser said. “He molded us into a team that was tough.”
“A lot of stuff was foreign to us, like where to line up and passing into space in front of a guy,” Bill Palmer said. “We were all used to basketball and baseball, where you threw it right to a guy. Tom tried to get that into our heads. We learned on the fly.”
The team’s first practice was held Aug. 30 on the Crandall Park field, and 32 teenage boys showed up.
“Part of our training was running from the high school, up Glen Street to Crandall Park, every day,” Bill Palmer recalled.
“Coach must have figured that if we got beat, at least we weren’t going to be tired,” said Mike Palmer, a Navy veteran who has spent the last 40 years as an X-ray technician at Glens Falls Hospital.
The fledgling Glens Falls boys soccer team was a patchwork quilt of athletes from other sports. Brad Harrison had played football and was a four-year varsity tennis player. Mike Palmer and Randy LaPoint were baseball standouts — the older brothers of future major league pitchers, both named Dave. Doug Taylor was a wrestler. Dick Abbe was a swimmer. Captain Mike Curley was the point guard for the basketball team.
Only a few had any experience playing soccer, like Kyser and sophomore Steve Sovetts. All of the Indians’ starters were seniors, except Sovetts and juniors Taylor and Peets.
“Quite a few of us had played football,” Mike Palmer said, “and that’s how we played soccer. We didn’t have much finesse, except for a few of the guys up front.”
Bill Palmer was the Indians’ first goalkeeper — the first of four brothers who all played in goal for Glens Falls. Bill Palmer, who earned Foothills Council all-star status that inaugural season, went on to a nearly 40-year career as a sportswriter, first at The Post-Star, then at the Daily Gazette in Schenectady.
“Billy Palmer was an animal in goal,” Harrington said. “For someone who never played organized soccer, he was an outstanding goalkeeper.”
Harrison and Steve Shenk were the fullbacks, aggressive defenders who were the embodiment of Glens Falls’ physical play. Harrington had to teach them to back off a bit to avoid penalties.
“It turned out, I was better without pads on,” said Harrison, who also made the all-Foothills team. “I was notorious for taking the man down hard, make him remember, maybe he’ll pass it next time. I loved the physicality of it.”
Harrington installed a unique 5-3 offensive set that he had learned from his college coach at Castleton, Dick Terry. Mike Palmer, LaPoint and Peets were midfielders. Kyser, another All-Foothills selection, was the Indians’ dominant player up front, joined by combinations of Curley, Abbe and Sovetts. Kevin McMahon, Taylor and Hudson Falls transfer Joe Cormie were the wings.
“What the boys called a five-man front was really three forward strikers and two inside forwards behind them, like a big W, and three midfielders who could drop back,” Harrington said. “(Johnsburg coach) Sam Allison once said to me, ‘One thing bothered me when we played you — you sent so damn many players up front, we couldn’t keep track of them all.’"
“We would get the ball and cross it into the middle, take shots on goal and try to get garbage goals,” said McMahon, now a semi-retired engineering consultant after a long career in international business. “The fullbacks would just bang it up to us.”
For the record, Kyser scored the first goal in Glens Falls soccer history, on an assist from Abbe, but the Indians lost that non-league opener, 2-1 to Cambridge.
In 1973, the Foothills Council was only a year old. Hudson Falls was the defending champion, and Glens Falls upset the Tigers in the second game, 4-3, with Kyser putting away the game-winner in overtime. Kyser, who finished with four goals and five assists, went on to play soccer for four years at Quinnipiac. Curley scored five goals.
After giving up nine goals in their first three games, the Indians allowed no more than one goal per game for the rest of the season. They finished third in the Foothills, and capped off the season with a 3-1 win over Cambridge.
More importantly, they all bonded together as a team.
“Part of that was Tom getting us to think of ourselves as underdogs, us against them, all for one, one for all,” Bill Palmer said. “Nobody could afford to be a prima donna.”
Harrington coached the Indians for 23 seasons, stepping down in 1995 as he walked off the field at the same time as his son, Chris. Later, Harrington returned to coach every level of girls soccer at Glens Falls for several more years before retiring. He also started and ran the Glens Falls Recreation Department for 24 years.
After high school, several players formed a semipro team sponsored by the Inside Edge ski shop. Made up mostly of players from Glens Falls and Hudson Falls, they played in a southern Vermont league for many years in the 1970s.
Team members Randy LaPoint and Bill McMahon, Kevin’s younger brother, both died young. LaPoint and his wife were killed in a car accident in 1978.
“That sent me reeling a bit,” Harrison said of LaPoint’s death. “He was so much fun — he loved life tremendously.”
The 1973 Glens Falls boys soccer team laid a foundation for a terrific run of success. The Indians won back-to-back Class B sectional and regional titles in 1975-76.
“It was a good group of guys.” Mike Palmer said. “We came together as a team, we hustled and we played hard — and that showed the younger kids how to do it.”
Follow Pete Tobey on Twitter @PTobeyPSVarsity.