With the 45th Missouri Boys’ High School Soccer Championship decided last weekend, we take a look back to the very first state championship.
In 1969 at the end of a chilly winter campaign, Christian Brothers College High School faced off against Rosary High School for the Missouri State Boys’ Soccer Championship, the first of its kind. Normandy High School hosted what developed into a nail biter. One goal in overtime decided the match. Before the game, both CBC and Rosary faced the chance to be the first team in history to hoist up a state championship trophy.
“It didn’t occur to us.”
This is Kevin Howe’s response when asked whether he and his CBC teammates thought it was something special – to play in Missouri’s first ever high school state championship. Didn’t occur to them?
A Bumpy Road
In his senior year, Howe played for a very talented CBC team, a team that was part of a ten year stretch of dominance by the Christian Brothers. They lost only two games over the course of the season. But one of those losses was a bitter one to their nemesis, St. Mary’s. To make matters worse, the loss occurred in the Christmas Tournament.
“In those days, the Christmas Tournament was big, almost as big as District,” Howe said. He still remembers the loss. They played on a field that was a sheet of ice, when soccer was still a winter sport. “It had been muddy weeks before and earlier games left pock marks on the field where guys had stepped into the mud and left imprints. Those foot prints froze into craters. The ball bounced all over the place. I mishit a header that bounced out of one of those craters right into the goal.”
But that goal wasn’t enough. St. Mary’s won the game and won the tournament. The loss left Bob Horgan, CBC’s coach, bitterly disappointed. The mercurial Irishman, fiercely competitive, walked away from the team.
“I remember when I was a sophomore he gave a pep talk before a game. I was so fired up, when we were walking out to the field, I was bouncing up and down, saying, “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.” It wasn’t until Vince Fassi said something to me that I realized I wouldn’t even be playing in the game.”
To this day, Howe isn’t sure whether Horgan truly considered leaving or was only trying to motivate his team. Brother Paul, who had never played soccer and had never coached it, filled the role of interim coach. He left the team’s direction up to its senior leaders: Howe, Denny Hadican, Mike Costello and Vince Fassi.
After two or three weeks, he told them that Horgan was ready to come back. “He quit you, boys. It’s up to you if he comes back.” There was no question. They all wanted the fiery Horgan back at the helm.
The First of Many
CBC managed to beat St. Mary’s in the run up to the state final. But that left a powerful Rosary team as their final opponent. Dan Counce, a future NASL pro, a future MISL pro and MLS executive, was a Rosary junior and dangerous attacking threat.
Bob Horgan asked Kevin Howe, playing at center back, if he could handle the assignment with Counce’s size advantage.
“How big you think he is?”
Horgan considered it. “I don’t know, six-three or six-four.”
Howe laughs at this now. “Dan Counce is probably five ten. He just played big – big enough that he seemed six-four.”
Counce, of course, was a challenge. “One time he scared me pretty good,” Howe said, “getting past me with what could have been a good chance on goal. But Bruce Hudson slipped over from right back and saved us.”
The game featured dozens of great players. “I think almost everyone who played on the field went on to play college,” Howe remembers. Some of them played for St. Louis University during one of its most lethal runs – championships in ’69, ’70, ’72 and ’73. Howe and Fassi were part of SIUE’s 1972 championship side. Moreover, several players went on to play professionally: Howe, Counce, Hadican, Hudson.
When all was said and done, CBC became the first ever boys state soccer champions when Bob Rapp scored for the 1 – 0 win in the first overtime.
When Soccer Was St. Louis’ Game
So why wasn’t it momentous – this first ever state championship? Because CBC had rattled off District Championship after District Championship.
“Back then, the District Championship was it. It was state. No one else could play the game,” Howe said.
He recalls that CBC took annual alternating trips to Kansas City or Chicago. “We’d play De La Salle in Chicago, then the next year we’d travel to Rockhurst. We’d beat those teams nine or ten to nothing. And that’s with the starters playing five minutes of the game.”
This past weekend CBC brought home a record-breaking eighth state title. I spoke with Tommy Howe after the game and mentioned it was a record breaker, an eighth title among large schools. T Howe, a proud CBC grad, scoffed at the notion. “Eighth? What about all our District Titles – that was the same thing? I wish they counted those. Nobody else would even be close.”
Some things remain the same, including St. Louisans fierce loyalties to their high schools even if it is 44 years after graduation. But some things do change – and once upon a time, it was St. Louis’ game. And nobody else was even close.