Browsing Posts tagged

(The following blog by Dan Genzler of Sioux Falls, S.D. Genzler writes The Genz blog. Here is a blog about USA women’s soccer and its conversion of a naysayer – me.).
In full disclosure, I am not a die-hard soccer fan. Not even close.

I love football (both college and NFL) and baseball with a little college hoops mixed in. I have lost my passion for the NBA. I will watch the women’s softball World Series and occasionally turn on tennis when the U.S. Open or Wimbledon are underway.

It is rare that I will watch a soccer match at all. But, a revelation here, I have now watched both of the USA’s heart-thumping wins in the 2011 Women’s FIFA World Cup.

It wasn’t planned.

Being kind of a sports nut, I was watching ESPN when the highlights of the USA’s loss to Sweden a few days ago flashed across the TV. So, I decided maybe I would watch the quarterfinals with Brazil. Then, I thought, if I am asked a question about women’s soccer, at least I can say, “yes, it was exciting but the USA’s doesn’t have it anymore.”

Yep, I was one of those naysayers. I know, I know, where’s your USA spirit. Well, I must confess it wasn’t there, until….

I saw the penalty on the USA in the Brazil match. I jumped a little, cursed some, as the USA was penalized with a red card, in the process losing one of its best players, in the second half. Then after goalie Hope Solo stopped a shot by Brazil, the official gave Brazil another shot, saying a player encroached or Solo moved. Whatever it was, I spewed a few choice words.

Down a player to one of the best teams in the world, things didn’t look good for the USA. Still, I watched and fretted a little. Suddenly, the USA, even down a player, seemed to be controlling play. The USA took the match to extra time. Here I was thinking, OK, it is only a matter of time before it ends.

Along the way, I began thinking, why do I care about USA women’s soccer? I suspect it was because like the U.S. Hockey team in the Olympics, I am drawn to games where patriotism engulfs you. Sometimes, a call against your nation can fire you up – at least to this one observer.

As Brazil scored early in extra time, the USA still didn’t quit. The fans in Germany started coming to their side. It was amazing turnabout, almost like Rocky IV when he beat Drago and then after the fight said to the Russian fans – “if I can change and you can change everybody can change!.”

That was happening to me. I was changing, rooting hard for the American women’s soccer team, in a sporting contest that mattered little to me before this week.

The USA fought through, kind of like Rocky, beat the odds and when Abby Wambach’s header late in overtime or extra time, tied the match, well I was hooked. I watched the USA win in a shootout of penalty kicks. Again Solo was huge with a big save. With a 2-2 (5-3 PK) USA win (, I was ready for their next match.

Today in the Cup semifinals against France, the USA seemed a bit disjointed and tired. Still they took a 1-0 lead early. However the French team was here to play and they had a number of opportunities to take advantage of the porous US play. They counted just one goal, on a weird play, ball bouncing past U.S. goalie Hope Solo, who reacted to a player in the box going for a header.

In the 79th minute, Wambach did it again. For the third straight game, she scored a goal – this one again on a header. Shortly thereafter the USA added a third goal and they were on their way to the World Cup finals.

Now, I am confused. I can’t say I am a soccer fan yet. You won’t find me heading out to local soccer matches, hoping I will find the next Hope Solo or Abby Wambach. But like Brandy Chastain and Mia Hamm did 12 years ago, the USA women are the attention of the nation, if not the world. They are continuing to build a legacy of excellence in women’s soccer. These wins, and how they unfolded, are captivating young American girls if not all of America.

I think we are seeing the heart of a champion. I don’t know that it matters who is next. It will be a downer if they don’t win it all but they have won over people, like me.

No, maybe I am not totally sold on soccer, but I am going to watch the finals. And, when those moments get tense, I will shout a few words or encouragement to the Americans and disapproval to the referees, thinking they will hear me through the TV.

This Cup finals will capture my interest and be an event that I will remember (even if it isn’t the NFL or the World Series with my beloved Tigers).

The the best thing about this soccer resurgence isn’t winning me over (obviously) but that soccer is back – if it ever left. The USA is tough, resilient and just plain good. We are reminded of that again.

Note – this blog is the first in a “Pride of the Prairie” series at The Genz blog ( by Dan Genzler of Sioux Falls, S.D., and will feature all-time greats from South Dakota and the Midwest. 

For wriers, finding a few gems of knowledge, particularly new jewels that have been hidden for some time, is like a kid enjoying a twist ice cream cone on a hot Sunday afternoon. You get excited and imbibe in a treat that is refreshing but leaves you wanting more.

Recently, I found out that the legendary University of Southern California baseball and basketball coach Justin “Sam” Barry was born in Aberdeen, S.D. After reading about his life, I learned that he along with Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers manager George “Sparky” Anderson and Notre Dame’s Frank Leahy had connections including being born or growing up as youth in South Dakota.

Barry, with Anderson, born in Bridgewater, S.D., and Leahy, formerly of Winner, S.D., had careers that left an imprint on the national sports scene. All three men have been inducted into prestigious national Halls of Fame. And, interestingly, both Anderson and Leahy have direct connections to Barry.

After the sudden, unexpected death of legendary USC football coach Howard Jones in 1941, Barry was named head coach of the Trojans for football, baseball and basketball, a rarity. Barry had served as Jones’ top assistant for years and had come to the Los Angeles campus because of Jones, who coached with him at Iowa.

Jones left Iowa in 1923 after directing the Hawkeyes to a co-championship of the Big Ten, which wasn’t again accomplished until 1956. He went to Trinity College (later Duke) for a year before he was hired in 1925 at USC. When USC’s basketball job opened in 1929, Jones recommended his friend and former colleague. Barry took the job and also was named head baseball skipper.

Over the next 12 plus years, both men experienced significant success, as Barry also served as a football assistant to Jones. USC won three national titles in football, seven PAC-10 conference titles and five Rose Bowls. USC’s baseball (5) and basketball (3) teams, coached by Barry, won a combined eight conference championships.

The USC football team, which was mourning Jones’ death, didn’t recover in 1941, falling to a 2-6-1 record with Barry at the helm. Yet, Barry led the team to a pair of impressive performances, including knocking off Oregon State, who would go to the Rose Bowl that season. In the season opener, Barry, in his first game as USC football coach, directed the Trojans to a 13-7 win as USC scored the winning TD with 13 seconds to play.

Later in the year, Barry directed his troops to a near upset of fourth-ranked Notre Dame at South Bend, where the Irish were led by first-year coach Frank Leahy, who finished 8-0-1. For Leahy it was the start of a remarkable career, which would put him into the College Football Hall of Fame. Leahy finished his Irish coaching career with six national championships (two as a player under Knute Rockne and four as the head coach). 

Leahy coached the Irish in 1939-40, 1941-43 and 1946-53, compiling a mark of 107-13-9, or an .864 winning percentage, which still ranks second best in NCAA DI football annals. He trails only his mentor and coach Knute Rockne.

Barry would serve as USC’s coach just two more games before leaving the campus to serve in the U.S. Navy in 1942. Barry’s final game as head coach was a 7-7 tie with city rival UCLA in the 1941 season finale.

So, there it was a Winner kid (Leahy) and an Aberdeen boy (Barry) matching coaching strategy as their teams butted head on the biggest of stages. Leahy’s Irish won a close encounter, 20-18, before more than 54,000 in attendance.

An interesting sidebar about that 1941 game is that both Barry and Leahy were first-year coaches. In the long rivalry of USC-ND, it wasn’t until Brian Kelly of Notre Dame and Lane Kiffin of USC met in 2010, that another pair of first year coaches faced off in one of America’s most famed rivalries.

Also during that time, Barry became acquainted with Bridgewater’s Anderson, who served as the bat boy for the USC baseball team in the early 1940s. We all know that Sparky would become the first major league manager to win World Series for teams in both leagues. He was inducted into Cooperstown (major league baseball hall of fame)  in 2000. Sparky was also the first manager to win 600 career games in both leagues and as a minor league manager directed a team to a 4-3 win in 29 innings, the longest uninterrupted game in baseball history.

All three men had famed careers and biographies worth noting. The Genz blog takes a look back at the careers of the three men, all who unfortunately have passed on, but are prime examples of the “Pride of the Prairie.” For more about the men, go to