Early Soccer

Richard Franklin Bishop   

© Copyright 2012 by Richard Franklin Bishop 


Photo of a 1930's soccer ball.

I was born and raised on a farm in Kalamazoo County, Michigan. It was on Rural Route # 7 and later was designated as 5719 Angling Road, Portage. We lived one-fourth of a mile north of Milham Avenue. At the northwest corner of Angling Road and Milham Avenue was located a one-room schoolhouse complete with a bell-tower on the roof. This early educational facility was formally designated as: Portage, Number 3rd Fractional and had a succession of teachers, each, at different times, in turn, staffing the 8 grades of this Grade School. (It was torn down to make way for a housing development).

About the year 1941, a decision was made that all students progressing from this school would have another choice for their further education. Mattawan Consolidated High School, located 10 miles west of us in Van Buren County, who were providing classes for grades 7 & 8 (Junior High) and grades 9, 10, 11, and 12 (High School) would be offering Bus service to a boundary as far away as Oakland Drive (one mile east of us). Those families declining this option would, in the normal course of events, continue to send their children to schools in the Kalamazoo area.

One of our teachers at the grade school was a first generation male of German descent named Mr. Bushnell. This was somewhere in the time frame of from September 1937 to June 1941 when I was in grades 3 through 8. He was a nice looking young man about 5 feet 10 inches tall of athletic physique but with glasses. I remember that he combed his long, straight jet-black hair straight back over the top (looking very like the much later Newspaper pictures of Mr. Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense). We were also astonished that he also spoke perfect "Radio Announcer" English with no trace of a Midwest or any other accent.

The unique thing about his tenure at our grade school was that our sport of sports became soccer. He brought with him several of the necessary balls and we scratched our heads about how to use them. But, he taught us the rules of play in short order. From then on, every spare moment, including recesses, were spent in playing and improving our game of “fußball.”

He would change from his street clothes in only a couple of minutes and put on a “sweat suit” which came to be known in later years as a “jogging suit.” He removed his glasses and from then on was a “whirling dervish” with long, black hair flying while demonstrating his favorite game.

We caught on in a hurry and were into the spirit of the game complete with leg bruises as outward signs of our prowess. Choosing up sides took but a few minutes with all ages and classes participating, and girls competed equally with boys and no quarter was asked for or given by either. We really raised a dust when both teams got into a donnybrook over the ball and six or seven players tried to get it back at the same time; hence the black and blue shins. The sound of Mr. Bushnell's referee whistle just barely penetrated this mêlée to break up the wild but concentrated play.

But we could never compete with other schools at soccer because no place else had the know-how and there were no soccer balls available -- this was a totally foreign sport in our part of America, at the time. But we kids loved it, contusions and all, and we missed it greatly as we advanced to later schools and higher grades. Timid personalities became avid players and I do believe that we all were fortunate enough, due to our rough play, to lose our fear of sports injuries in general.

The odd thing was that the other sports did not seem to suffer because of our preoccupation with this strange game. For example, at all the intra-mural track meets and other competitions against other fractional schools, our school did really well at running, jumping and softball. I remember winning most of the “baseball throws.”  I was always tall and lean with long arms.

I know that Association Football, as soccer is otherwise known, had a formal organization in the USA as early as 1913 (the forerunner of CONCACAF). Perhaps there were enclaves of emigrants in various places that had soccer teams in their schools. But, I wonder, were we the only ones in the entire United States that played Soccer regularly in grade school in the nineteen-thirties before World War II?

Photo of the 1937-38 class.
There were 23 students in the Portage 3rd Fractional School year 1937-38. Two soccer teams of 11 plus a substitute.

Mr. Clarence Bushnell ( with tie) - top row left - Teacher and Coach
Person beside him, I don't know - assistant ?

From Bottom up:

Me - 3rd Grade - First row on the left
My Sister - 6th Grade - Second row - 8th in from the left (Dotted Dress)
My Brother - 8th Grade - Third row  on left 

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