"Dominating the game and swirling around their opponents like a Golden Tornado."
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You guys ready for a whirlwind history lesson? Contained in this interview are stories about a team that is over 100 years old. That's right. A US Soccer Team in the non-league levels of Western Pennsylvania that has been around for over 100 years. Please click the links in the interview that direct you to the team website. There are a ton of pictures and even more history to be discovered once you do. Check it out.
Tell readers a little about yourself. Who you are, where you're from, and what your role is with Heidelberg SC?
My name is Craig Drinkhall. I am 57 years old and a telecommunications a datacenter professional for a living. My soccer nickname is Keno. Everyone in the soccer community all around Western PA, knows me as Keno.
I was born and raised in Heidelberg, PA. Though I currentlly live in a nearby town, I am still very involved and dedicated to the soccer club and many many of my friends.
I am currently the President of the HSC (Heidelberg Soccer Club). I am also the un-official historian. I currently play on our over 50 team, and have played on every team (all the youth levels, the Senior Open level, Over 30, Over 40, and now Over 50) since I was a young boy.
How did you come to be a fan of soccer, and involved with Heidelberg SC?
Our club, HSC is over 100 years old. Our town and it seems like everyone in it, always played soccer.
I played because every other guy my age was playing. Their older brothers or fathers played on the "Senior" team, too. It was unusual for a few towns in Western PA, like Heidelberg, to have continued with a very long tradition of still playing soccer. As I became an adult and starting playing at the senior level, we had to start taking over team and management responsibilities, so I became a team manager.
That's how I became a soccer fan. Our teams are all made up of mostly players we played together as youths. We are all good friends outside of the game too and the club is a glue that holds us together for lots of other activities as well. We play club games, like the Annual Married vs Singles game, where every age level plays together and then we have a great picnic afterwards. We get together and watch BPL and UCL games and attend USA MNT games when we can.
One time, one of the older players passed away and he had a 'book' with lots of photos and newspaper clippings, as well as some old uniforms and trophies. We heard they were thrown out. So we got to thinking that someone should collect the history. As a hobby I started to do it and it's picked up a lot of interest. Our club has a rich and storied history. Even winning the National Amateur Championship 3 times, and the National Junior Challenge Cup once. So I started in earnest the collection. It's brought a lot of happiness and pride to many people.
This might be a tough ask, but how would you explain the history of Heidelberg SC in a couple of paragraphs for readers?
See some info here: http://heidelbergsoccer.com/history/national_cups.html
A couple noteworthy comments.
The colors Green and Gold have always been used and still are today.
Also a local newspaper reporter nicknamed the team the Golden Tornadoes. I believe the comment had something to do with the uniforms that year being mostly gold and we were according to him, "Dominating the game and swirling around their opponents like a Golden Tornado." It stuck and we have been that name ever since.
Also at one point, a newspaper claimed that Heidelberg was the "Soccer Capitol of the USA!"
As an amateur men's soccer team, even with one as long and rich a tradition as Heidelberg, what are some of the common difficulties you run into with keeping the team operational, and interest high?
We still have many of the same issues as all teams do. Volunteers, getting enough players, fundraising, getting fields and referees. But we do the social things like I mentioned below on the July 4th game, to keep interest at a higher level than just one team you play for. We also established an HSC Hall of Fame to keep the recognition high.
We also try to support as much family and generational connections as we can. Getting the children of the existing HSC players involved. For example, our O30 manager, his Father played with me when we were younger, and his grandfather were on some of the teams that competed for national runs.
Since Tartan Devils are the one's who pointed me your direction, I'm curious. Does the this team have any designs on finding a way into the US Open Cup?
No, we have no designs on getting into the US Open again. That takes the best of the best from our area, which is why the TDFC team is doing so well. We just hope to compete in Western Pennsylvania and keep the club going forever. We certainly are behind them 100% and are very happy a team from Western PA is in it again! A few of their players are the coaches at our High School team, so we all feel connected to support.
That's a cool connection between your two clubs regardless. What is the name of the league you play in again, and how would you describe the level of competition? Do you have any rivals in the league?
There current league is called PAWest - Adult (PAWest is the US Youth Soccer official org for western Pennsylvania - the adult leagues have partnered and go under the umbrella of PAWest for synergies)
There are actually names for the leagues of each age group from GPSL - Greater Pittsburgh Soccer League (the open division, where the TDFC plays), to the Pittsburgh Senior Masters Soccer League (which is the over 50's where I play now). HSC have teams in all 4 divisions.
The most prolific and historically nationally well known of the western PA leagues are undoubtedly "The Keystone League" and the "Pittsburgh Press League". Heidelberg played in both of those leagues until disbanded.
There was also a Cup called the West Penn Cup, much like the FA cup, was a unification cup for all the leagues. HSC is tied for most West Penn Cup wins with 10.
There were so many teams that the Pittsburgh Press would sometimes have 4 pages of coverage in their Monday edition.
The level of competition at the highest level (youngest ages, GPSL) is fantastic. There are more than 50 teams, some years as many as 75. Soccer in western PA has become as big as everywhere. There are over 50,000 youth participants in the area and that just feeds the upper levels. Many go on to play in college and some even have made it to the pros and US National teams. I expect to see this trend continue. But the leagues will always be there to enable everyone who wants to compete at the level they want and play the game they love.
Yes, Heidelberg had some rivalries. They changed over the years. Some players even moved around to different teams to make their national runs.
Some rivalries still exist today in the adult leagues, some have gone by the wayside or were absorbed into larger communities. Many have competed on the national stage too.
Harmarville (still exists), won the US Open as an amateur team - twice 1952, 1956
Beadling - won the Nat Am in 1954 the year before HSC's 3rd NatAm in 1955
Morgan - (Sometimes known as Morgan Strasser who was the sponsor) - US Open 1949 Champs
Gallatin - US Open Champs 1942
How would you describe your town to someone who has never been there, like me?
A small western Pennsylvania town founding around mines and factories like many western PA towns, over 100 years ago. People from many countries in Europe emigrated to this small little town and brought with them the love of soccer. Soccer provided a sense of community and fellowship in the town that lasts till this day. Other sports played a big role too earlier in the history. There was an early successful baseball team, and also a raceway, the Heidelberg Raceway, which was a NASCAR track and even several times held the Pennsylvania 500 (now moved to Pocono raceway).
Heidelberg is still a nice small bedroom community that is a great place to raise a family.
I polled a few people informally. One trend that was really strong was stated that everyone thought that the friendships lasted a lot longer and were stronger than they hear from anyone else about their hometown. Who is still friends with the guys they went with to elementary school, or played on their U-10 soccer team.? Who has multi-generational friends and support? It seems our town has the longest lasting and strongest bonds they know. It seems that everyone thinks that the soccer club was one of if not the major reason why. That's heartening and we'd like to keep it going.
Wow. The amount of history in western Pennsylvania, soccer related or otherwise, is astounding. Let's wrap this up with a few closing questions. What's your favorite league and or team to watch for fun?
I follow the Barclays Premier League primarily. I follow Liverpool and the USMNT.
Favorite players, one past, one present.
My favorite player from the past is Steven Gerrard, and very excited about Christian Pulisic.
What would you say to the person asking you why they should get out there and support their local team, like Heidelberg SC?
I tell people that supporting the club brings people together they know and love in the town they know and Love. Also, many players in the club also are the coaches, administrators and parents of the youth players for the next generation. It is great to make a really positive impact on their lives and the team sport that is soccer.
Thank you again for your time Craig, I really appreciate it. Remember, if you are enjoying the weekly content coming out on AP you can Follow AP on Twitter, or Like AP on Facebook. And if you want make sure you never miss an interview, and want to read articles before everyone else, click here and sign up for the Newsletter. You'll be the first to know when articles are released and learn about other exciting content down the road.
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