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The City Journals

Bingham boys soccer players learn of program origins

Mar 28, 2017 11:44AM ● By Billy Swartzfager

Coach Chris Black, Al Richards, coach Trevor Ott and coach Ahmed Bakrim at Bingham soccer’s first team dinner. (Julia Howard/Resident)

By Billy Swartzfager | [email protected]

In the late 1970s, there was no boys soccer team at Bingham High School. And, if you ask those who tried to start one, the school wasn’t interested. But, there was interest, enough so that a team of 15 or 16 kids was eventually created. Fast forward nearly 40 years and there is not only a team, but one large enough to fill an entire basement for the 2017 season’s first team dinner on March 7.

A day after the Miners’ first pre-region game, a victory, the entire group got together for a meal to kick off the season in style. Julia Howard, who has a son on the squad, rounded up the very first head coach from Bingham soccer and one of his players to speak to the current team about the origins of the sport at Bingham High School.

“I thought it would be really cool for the kids to get some perspective about where the team came from,” Howard said.

Al Richards spoke first. He was one of the first players on the first team. His nickname was Air, because air is everywhere. It was Richards who first spoke to Bingham’s administration to get permission to form a team.

Richards started a petition and gathered enough support from those around the school to get the OK, though Bingham administrators said they couldn’t fund the team in any way. That left the few boys, who had only ever played recreation league soccer, to round up a place to practice, as well as fine equipment and a coach.

That is where coach Chris Black came in. When he spoke to the crowd of  current players, he mentioned that he may have been bamboozled into becoming the coach in the first place by the resourceful young men who were recruiting him. After he signed on to coach, he discovered that they had no balls, no nets, no place to practice or play and no way to get there.

Black, who was a teacher, and his assistant coach, Robert, who played with Black at BYU and who worked at the prison as a correctional officer, led the team to the state semifinals in its first year.

They found ways to come up with uniforms through Robert’s prison connection. Prisoners there made the uniforms in exchange for being able to attend games. The prisoners’ jumpsuits were the same color as the players’ uniforms, and they were referred to as the Bingham soccer team’s cheerleaders.

Together, the coaches also came up with a place to practice and the equipment they needed to be competitive. They took care of the fields they used at West Jordan Park; the team painted them, allowing other youth leagues to use them on other days, and even dug the holes needed to erect donated goal posts.

The group also borrowed nets from a soccer shop in Midvale until they were able to secure necessary funding.  The team also wound up with the balls they needed to get by, though the details surrounding the balls remain vague.

“Robert was good at acquiring things,” Black said. “Whenever we played another team, we left with another ball.”

Black headed the team until 1988. During that period, he didn’t get much support from the school and knew if soccer was going to survive at Bingham, the sport would have to become sanctioned as a team sport by the Utah High School Athletic Association.

A writer from the Deseret News led that charge, writing a piece about the growth of the sport and the following it was beginning to have. The writer also quoted Black in reference to how much soccer would cost compared to some of the other, more popular sports at the time. Black credits the sanctioning of soccer in Utah to the writer and the story he wrote.

These days, soccer is extremely popular, though still not as much as football or basketball. But, there are no financial and logistical struggles like those Black faced in the early years at Bingham. And, he is extremely proud of that, as is Richards, the two individuals most responsible for bringing soccer to Bingham High School.