Fredrickson helped bring soccer to Williamsport, surrounding schools
Dr. Bob Fredrickson was new to the area in 1974. Having just relocated to Williamsport after spending four years in Germany as a Captain in the Army Dental Corps, Fredrickson wanted to help bring soccer to the area.
First step, get a ball.
Fredrickson headed to the most reputable sporting goods store in the area: Harders. But when he asked if they carried any soccer equipment, the longtime dentist was met with a, “I know we don’t have any balls, but we have some sticks back there.”
“I knew this was going to be a tough sell. We’re starting at the bottom here,” Fredrickson recalled his thoughts at the time.
This started a long and uphill battle to bring awareness to the area about the most popular sport outside of the United States. America was late to the soccer party, but Williamsport was even later.
Having extensive experience in playing and watching some of the best soccer in the world while overseas, Fredrickson had to introduce a relatively new sport to an area crazy for baseball.
A four-year letterman at Lynchburg College, Fredrickson wasn’t the first to bring soccer to the area. Heinz Backhus, a native of Germany, helped bring AYSO here in 1975 with Region 90, which was headquartered out of Muncy, and was one of the first AYSO regions east of the Mississippi. The organization consisted of six surrounding communities — Williamsport, Loyalsock, Muncy, Warrior Run, Lewisburg and Danville.
“I didn’t realize that it wasn’t here when I moved here. Soccer was a part of my life. That was my sport. I was a bit disappointed when it wasn’t here,” Fredrickson said. “When I heard about Heinz Backhus starting AYSO, I didn’t know him at the time. I just saw an ad for AYSO and I went to a meeting at the old Quality Inn in South Side and met Heinz Backhus and we took off from there.”
Others jumped on board like Dave Edwards, who was the regional commissioner for Region 90 and Dr. Mike Ryan, who developed the Danville area and helped expand the influence.
The interest was slow at first. In 1976, when the youth programs began to pop up, only 36 kids, aged 6-17, signed up for AYSO. But within the next couple of years, the popularity began to boom.
“It was slow and it was a lot of word of mouth and a few ads in the paper for registration. As the grass roots, word of mouth grew, more people came out and we grew to where we had a pretty good sized AYSO,” Fredrickson said. “Williamsport probably had close to 600 kids.”
Though youth interest began to grow in the late 1970s, albeit slowly, only a handful of high schools offered soccer. In 1974, Sullivan County, Benton, Millville, Middleburg and West Snyder were the only District 4 schools to have soccer. Bishop Neumann became the first local school to bring in the program in 1981 and thanks to Fredrickson, Williamsport soon followed after.
The longtime Williamsport dentist was a regular at school board meetings, pleading his case to bring a rapidly growing sport to the High School. The first main issue was who Williamsport was going to play and how was it going to be funded. An answer to that second question presented itself.
“We had to pay for it. The first two seasons, we paid,” Fredrickson said.
A 2001 inductee of the West Branch Hall of Fame, Fredrickson put together a document with 10 questions and answers that would help the school board understand better the benefits of adding a soccer program. After a few more school board meetings, the addition was finally approved.
“I saw the need to get it into the schools. The normal progression was, these kids needing something above and beyond. The type of child that plays soccer, male or female, is not the kind that is going to play football,” Fredrickson said. “When we saw the need in 1980-81, we started. Fall of 1981, (Neumann) had their first season, fall of 1982, Williamsport had its first season.”
Soon after, fundraisers began, including gun raffles. Those helped fund the program the first two years. After baseball was added a year later, soccer started receiving funding from the school district.
The program quickly took off with 20 players, and good ones, too. Williamsport won four straight district titles from 1986-89 and even made it to the state semifinals in 1987.
“We had a bunch of kids that got started in our first season. They were the kids that graduated in 1986 so their first season was 1982. The group that came in 1984 was my son and Ethan Raup and Brandon Pardoe, who’s a principal now. There were 20 kids and those kids that were so turned on and their parents were so supportive and we took them to tournaments,” Fredrickson said. “I got them out of the area because I knew soccer people all around the state. We’d take them down to Lebanon County, Lancaster County, Harrisburg, Suburban Philadelphia and get them in tournaments.”
Other school districts took notice of what was going on at Williamsport and Dr. Soccer, which Fredrickson has been nicknamed for his work, met with 19 different school boards over the ensuing months and years and he helped other schools around the region including Southern Columbia, Central Columbia, Bloomsburg, Lock Haven, Hughesville and everywhere in between.
“You were always dealing with a school board and an athletic director that was always a football coach so you had to kind of be politically savvy to not step on their toes and let them know that the kids that are going to be playing soccer are not going to be taken away from their football program,” Fredrickson said. “We made the proposition to the school boards. It was a tough battle.”
But it was a battle worth fighting for. The fight didn’t stop at the school boards, either. Fredrickson wanted to offer soccer for all ages in the area and that prompted him and Scott McNeil, now the coach of the Williamsport girls soccer team, to start an adult league in 1977. So they placed an ad in the Sun-Gazette stating, “Anyone interested in playing adult soccer meet at Curtin school on Tuesday at 6 p.m. No experience necessary.”
Nearly 50 people showed up and the first official “scrimmage.” The following Tuesday brought out more than 40 “soccer players” with only four of them having any previous soccer experience, including McNeil and Fredrickson. The group met every Tuesday and Thursday from the beginning of May to Thanksgiving for the next 20 years. An official league even grew out of it in 1984, the Susquehanna Valley Adult Soccer League. Six teams jump started the league and it eventually grew to 12 teams. Games were played every Sunday from May until Thanksgiving with Fredrickson as the administrator. They’d play in State College, Clarion and even at the Rockview Prison where a roster had to be sent in two weeks prior. But in 1995, he stepped down, and not coincidentally, the league folded two years later.
“Now we have soccer players around and we don’t have an adult league,” Fredrickson said. “That breaks my heart.”
Fredrickson wasn’t just an administrator and advocate to get soccer into the schools. He also was a referee, a Hall of Fame player at Lynchburg College and a coach. After helping Williamsport get soccer, Fredrickson later coached the Millionaires from 1993-98, going 70-50-11 and winning two district titles and advancing to back-to-back state semifinals in 1994 and 1995. He earned the Susquehanna Valley League’s Coach of the Year award in 1995.
A clinic in Holland took his coaching acumen to the next level. He took a 10-day National Soccer Coaches Association course from the Dutch Federation at their headquarters in Zeist.
“What a fabulous opportunity to see the way they do all their training. The youth development programs that they have at the Ajax Club in Amsterdam was amazing,” Fredrickson said. “We saw professional games and got in touch with professional players that talked to and mentored us. It was an eye opener.”
After Fredrickson stopped coaching, Williamsport didn’t win another district title for 21 years. While he was making state runs, he also laid the groundwork that helped Williamsport get girls soccer in 1995.
Fredrickson’s love and passion for soccer began from a young age in Lebanon County. Attending a small school with a class of 44, football wasn’t offered, but soccer was. He’d go down to the soccer fields after class and watch the high schoolers play. A move to Lynchburg, Virginia in ninth grade, though, ended his soccer career for a bit. It wasn’t offered in the area but Fredrickson still got to show off his skills at recess, dribbling through his whole class with ease. After graduation, he joined the military and started to play soccer consistently again.
“I went to military school and got involved in soccer and that kind of saved me because boot camp, the first week, I knew I made a mistake and I was ready to go AWOL. My dad said, ‘You come home and you’re going into the Marines.’ I saw a soccer field out there and that saved me,” Fredrickson said. “I just lived for soccer and the military was secondary.”
Once out of the military, Fredrickson became an all-conference player for Lynchburg where he helped it to back-to-back NCAA East Coast College tournament berths and when stationed in Germany, he played with the German Fussball Bund for four years.
Fredrickson knows as much about soccer as any coach, even without a European accent that seems to bring instant credibly, warranted or not. He’s seen and met some of the biggest names in the history of the sport like Pele and Diego Maradona and he was even in the stands of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico City for Maradona’s famous — or infamous — “hand of God” goal. He’s been all over Europe to see all the best players and teams play like Manchester and Liverpool. He even still sits down every Saturday and Sunday morning to watch international soccer and even, if he’s not working, he’ll catch an MLS game during the week.
Fredrickson has seen soccer grow, not just internationally, but really, locally. He spends his fall afternoons and nights watching some of the best local talent at some amazing, multi-million dollar facilities like Balls Mills.
“I’d eat my heart out for a facility like this,” Fredrickson said while admiring the product of Vic Engel’s donation. “When I played, we were playing in cow pastures.”
The sport has grown locally to where state of the art facilities are being constructed, new leagues and teams are being formed, club soccer has a few hundred participants and local teams are making state runs and winning state titles. Athletes are going on to accomplish great feats collegiately and even professionally. And, quite possibly, none of that would have been feasible if not for Dr. Soccer.
“It was always my hope. You love to see it grow,” Fredrickson said. “It’s nice to see the interest we have in soccer. I can’t tell you the number of people that say, ‘Ah, soccer.’ Then all of a sudden, there kid plays or there grandkid plays and now they’re saying, ‘Hey, Doc, I’m watching soccer. I saw a game the other day.’ I say, ‘Yeah, I know.'”