You make your way through the Upstate Sports Museum until you get to the soccer wing, and there on the back left, is the display devoted to the birth of soccer in Greenville’s public schools.
Behind the glass case, visitors can glimpse such collectibles as Brodie Bricker’s crutches, Steve Alford’s Brogan high-tops, Kevin Mullen’s Bootleggers jacket and the original eight balls purchased by Wade Hampton High School principal Dewey Huggins to get that first team going back in 1968.
If only it were so. If only more than a relative few knew of those early days and the way it all began. …
Who knows the whereabouts of the infamous crutches, or those big old high-tops or the original eight?
The Bootleggers jacket? Mullen still has it. He was showing it off at his barber shop, the Golden Razor, one day last week.
“You’ve got to be careful,” Bricker said, “because he got that out of the history museum downtown.”
“Yeah, the Confederate history museum,” said Mullen.
It wasn’t quite that long ago, which is probably why as Bricker, Mullen and David Jackson shared memories, they rarely disagreed. And the memories were fairly vivid.
Bricker was the coach, the one who started it all in 1968. Mullen and Jackson were in Wade Hampton’s Class of 1975, and by the time they came around, Bricker was the school’s principal.
“Brodie was the disciplinarian principal,” Mullen said. “You didn’t want to get in trouble, and if you did, that’s how you ended up on the soccer team. That’s not how we ended up on it. I was stupid enough that I went out for it as a freshman.”
“I went out for basketball and got cut,” said Jackson.
“You weren’t but two feet tall,” said Bricker. “How were you going to play basketball?”
“I could jump,” Jackson said. “I could at least get the net.”
Turned out he was much better in front of the net.
Jackson, at first, joined the team as a manager, and back then, even managers were on the eligibility list.
The team was on the way to Columbia for the first game of the season against Dreher when goalkeeper Steve Browder got sick on the bus.
“I said, ‘You’re going to be the goalie.’ We took shots at him in practice anyway,” said Bricker.
“We didn’t have enough players to have two goalies in practice,” Jackson said, “so I would be in one goal in street clothes.”
Jackson wound up securing the job.
“Thank you, Jesus, for that, too,” said Mullen, “because no one else wanted to be the goalie. It’s like wearing a target.”
“To this day I’ll never forget that first shot,” Jackson said. “A guy took a shot from 30 yards out, and I never saw the thing. It hits my left knee and bounces out about 20 yards, and all these guys playing defense turn around and go, ‘Way to go, way to go,’ and I never saw that ball.”
Bricker, 68, has been an administrator for all but one of his 46 years in education. He has spent all but three of those years in the Upstate, the majority in Greenville County.
He’s a native of Richmond, Virginia, and he could easily appreciate the kids he plucked from detention to man his soccer teams.
“I was a model student in high school,” Bricker, now serving as principal at Greenville Tech Charter High School, said with a smile, “so my junior year, my parents decided to send me to private school.”
That brought him to Greenville and Bob Jones Academy in 1962.
“They played soccer, and I thought it was some mamby-pamby sport. I was a football player,” Bricker said. “About midway through the season, they harassed me to come out for the team, and I did. I saw that you run more than football. You don’t have the physical piece, although I split my kneecap open and dislocated my shoulder, but it was really a team sport.
“Now we had a lot of great players, because we had kids from all over the world that knew about soccer, and then you had us old red-neck boys that didn’t know squat.”
Bricker played for two years and then attended Bob Jones University and played soccer for four more years. Upon graduation, he took a job at Wade Hampton as a social studies teacher in 1968.
Bricker continued to play for BJU’s graduate team that competed against the undergraduates. In the second or third game, however, he hyperextended his knee. When he showed up to class with a soft cast and crutches and had his leg propped up on the desk, his students became inquisitive.
When Bricker told them he got hurt playing soccer, they wondered why they didn’t have that sport.
When he didn’t have an answer, he went to find one. When Bricker asked principal Dewey Huggins, he said, “Well, Brodie, who are you going to play?”
Bricker said he’d find opponents, so Huggins asked what Bricker needed. He said some soccer balls, so Huggins bought eight soccer balls, and Bricker was on his way.
Bricker had a couple friends who had graduated from Bob Jones with him, one teaching at J.L. Mann and one at Parker. He called and asked each of them to get a team together.
“Whitey Kendall was (football coach) at Parker and Jim Slaton was at J.L. Mann. They were the gurus back then, and they let them have a team,” Bricker said.
Wade Hampton’s team became the Bootleggers.
“They wouldn’t let us be Generals,” Mullen said, “and I think the Bootlegger thing was kind of an in-your-face kind of name.”
“Well, you boot the ball with your leg,” said Bricker.
“That’s the official thing, but we knew the athletic department wouldn’t like it,” said Mullen. “We probably were renegades back then.”
If they were renegades, it’s because they felt as though they were treated as such.
“We got no respect,” said Steve Alford, a 1970 graduate who played on that first team in the 1968-69 season. “We were just nobody. We were pioneers.
“I was 16 years old. They allowed me to drive a school bus. I was a school bus driver at 16, picking up elementary kids and taking them to their schools, but they wouldn’t give us a letter in the sport of soccer.”
A letter? They had much greater signs of neglect, such as where to play and what to wear.
As Bricker looked at a photo of the first team, he described the origin of the uniforms. He said athletic director John Carlisle gave him old football uniforms that were no longer being used.
“The jerseys are old football jerseys, and the pants are old football pants,” he said. “I took them down to home (economics), and the girls cut them down to make shorts out of them. These are our first uniforms. We never had real soccer uniforms until the year I left.”
That was six years later.
“I had some big Brogan shoes that I got from somebody that had the big nylon football cleats on them,” Alford said. “They were high-tops, and I remember I had better traction than anybody, but I tore the ground up with those things. That’s probably why they wouldn’t let us play on the football field.
“I scored a lot of goals, because I had those big, old, hard-toed Brogans, and when I kicked the ball, there wasn’t anybody who was going to stop it.”
Alford’s shoes weren’t the only reason the football field was off-limits.
“They wouldn’t let you play on the football field because that was holy ground and this was a communist sport,” Bricker said.
The team began practicing at Greenville Junior High (now Greenville Middle). It also practiced at Artillery Field, down the road about a mile and a half from the school.
By the 1971-72 season (it was a winter sport at the time), the team moved into the old Washington Carver High School field. The school district owned it and allowed the soccer team to use it for a couple of years.
The Bootleggers struggled to find a home, but it’s not as if fans were looking for the games anyway.
“I don’t recall growing up and having any aspirations of being a soccer player,” Alford said. “You know, ‘I want to go out and run my tail off and kick a ball to nowhere and have nobody show up for the games.’ “
If there were two things the Bootleggers had in common, it was that they knew nothing about soccer and that they were in good shape.
“We ran to the field to practice, and then we ran sprints, and then we scrimmaged and then we ran back,” said Alford. “All we did was run.”
After practice, the players would run back to the school from Artillery Field, and Bricker would drive back.
One day, J.E. “Buck” Buchanan, the team’s goalkeeper, got creative during the post-practice run.
“A delivery truck was meandering past this group of runners,” Alford said, “and Buck caught up to that truck and jumped up on the back and held on to the strap on the door and rode it all the way back to the school.”
He avoided about a mile and a half, but the miles he and the others accumulated were many, thanks to the Indian Run.
“When you don’t have skill, you’ve got to wear the other team down, so we ran all the time,” Bricker said. “I gave them the Indian Run. I was a history teacher, and I gave them the history of how the Indians used to do this and … well, it was baloney.
“What it is, you get your whole team in a line, and then the front guy starts jogging. And you’re on a track, and the coach blows a whistle. Well, the guy in the rear has to sprint all the way up to the front, and you don’t stop doing that until everybody’s done it twice. Well, by the time everybody’s done it, you’ve run about two miles.”
At least the Bootleggers weren’t running in circles. That first team, playing round-robin with Mann and Parker in 1968-69, went 5-1 and declared itself “City Champions.”
At the time, Bricker said, there were few high schools playing soccer. The private schools had it because they couldn’t afford football. Greenwood had it, because Pinky Babb wanted his football players in soccer if they weren’t playing basketball or wrestling. Then you had to go to Columbia to find the next-closest teams.
It was still so new, and the Bootleggers’ roster was a makeshift lineup at best.
Those early teams had their share of rebels, but Bricker had a method to the madness of bringing them on board.
“I attribute a lot to him,” said Frank Stathakis, a member of that first team in 1968-69 and the owner of Stax’s Original Restaurant. “Just that moment in time, what he did probably changed the whole direction of my life.”
Stathakis admittedly was not among the most studious boys in the Class of 1969. He was indifferent toward school, and he thought the world had the same feeling toward the soccer team.
“I’ve got a picture hanging up at Stax Original of the first team,” he said. “I didn’t even know a picture existed. I didn’t think anybody cared enough to take a picture of us.”
Stathakis wouldn’t have been on the team had it not been for Bricker, who spent a lot of time counseling Stathakis, and he talked him into coming out for soccer.
“He was not the greatest student in attendance, and soccer kept him in school,” said Bricker.
“I wasn’t that skilled,” said Stathakis, “but he would just say, ‘That guy there, you need to get on him,’ and generally I would end up getting hurt a little bit, because I was a little aggressive. I’d either get a ball kicked in my face, or the other team would kick me in the face to tick me off, because I was the guy going after that guy.”
Stathakis wound up being one of the numerous success stories to come out of those early teams, in fact, one of the success stories who arose as a direct result of the existence of the early teams.
Or, as Stathakis said, more specifically as a result of Bricker’s intervention.
“I hope someday something I’ve done would affect somebody as he did me,” Stathakis said. “I know in my mind what it did for me. I wouldn’t have met my wife. She went to Wade Hampton. I’d have been elsewhere, so that kept me around to meet her.”
By the 1971-72 season, teams from across the state were invited to participate in the first open state tournament hosted by Clemson University and its soccer coach, Dr. I.M. Ibrahim, who, likewise, was in the early stages with his program.
Wade Hampton took a 3-5-1 record into the tournament and defeated J.L. Mann to win the Upper State championship. The next day, the Bootleggers lost to Porter-Gaud 6-0 to finish as state-runners-up.
The following year was the first in which soccer was recognized by the South Carolina High School League, according to all those involved. However, it wasn’t yet sanctioned by the High School League.
An open state tournament was held in Columbia, and Wade Hampton qualified with a record of 4-4-3, but the Bootleggers lost to Airport in the first round.
Mullen and Jackson were sophomores on that team, and up till that point, they and their cohorts had relied mainly on conditioning, and they continued to do so.
“But also I think by the third year, a number of us had played enough that we were really more comfortable playing together and could anticipate,” Mullen said.
“We never saw a soccer game other than what we played in up until our junior year,” said Jackson. “It was never on TV. We never knew what soccer really was. Brodie taught us everything. ‘Here is a ball. You hit it with your laces, not with your toe.’ “
“They learned the fundamentals. That was the good thing,” said Bricker. “A lot of the other teams had been playing and learned some bad habits.”
Well, it all came together in the 1973-74 season. The Bootleggers went 10-0-5; Bricker said rain was the reason for all the ties — sloppy games in which both teams struggled to score — and rain followed the combatants right on into the championship game, which pitted Wade Hampton against A.C. Flora.
When Tom Hebrank’s kick slipped through the A.C. Flora goalkeeper’s hands in the third overtime, the Bootleggers were state champions.
Recalling the moment 41 years later while sitting in the Golden Razor barber shop, Mullen and Jackson said in unison, “Desire … to fight … to win.”
Those were the words Bricker had driven into them.
“Regulation, two 15-minute overtimes and we were in our third five-minute sudden death,” Jackson said, “so it had been a long day, and what did he do after we shook hands? He lined us up on the 50-yard line, and we did wind sprints.”
“The easiest wind sprints we’d ever run in our lives,” said Mullen.
“That was the discipline that he brought to that program, and it kind of stays with you,” said Jackson, who runs a lumber brokerage company, “and any success I’ve had in life, I’ll go back to that and say that was driven into me at (that age). It meant a lot, and I think it meant a lot to a lot of those players who came up through there.”
“If you didn’t believe it before, after that goalie dropped that ball and we were champions, we believed it then. The desire to fight for what you want would make you win.”
Jackson said it has helped him and helped him teach his kids, one of whom is Richard Jackson, who took some tips from his father about soccer and kicking and went on to kick for Riverside High School (where he booted a state-record 64-yard field goal) and Clemson.
The ties that bound the past to ensuing years were many.
Jeannie Eskew (Class of 1973) and Sonya Ables (1976) were students at Wade Hampton during the early days of its soccer program. They could never have dreamed the pull the sport would have on their lives, even though Eskew’s brother, Mark Metcalf, was a member of the ’74 championship team.
In 1998, Wade Hampton won another state championship, its first since the High School League began sanctioning the sport of boys soccer in 1976. Josh Eskew, son of Jeannie, Matthew Ables, son of Sonya, and Michael Stathakis, son of Frank, were members of that team.
“It was just such an incredibly emotional and wonderful experience for our family, and I don’t even know that those guys got to feel like that,” Sonya Ables said, comparing her peers from the ’70s. “Their families didn’t get to feel like that. They did, because they’re the ones that worked so hard, but it’s one of those things you never ever forget as a parent. I’m just so glad that that first team finally got their due.”
That happened in August, when Wade Hampton celebrated the 40th anniversary of the 1974 state championship team. At halftime of the Generals’ football game against Dorman, Bricker and Josh Eskew, captain of the 1998 team and now the head boys soccer coach at Dorman High School, were on hand to present commemorative medallions to players from both teams.
In addition, those who played before 1973 had not received letters, and they were invited to return and receive recognition and their letters. So Alford, 61, who does remodeling and just put together a band that plays classic rock, finally has his letter.
It was a stirring event that not only reunited past teams but brought together the past, the present and in between, tying generations of Wade Hampton soccer together.
It also served as a reminder of their achievements.
“After winning the state championship,” said Mullen, “you kind of think, ‘OK, that was great, but a lot of people have won state championships in history.’ But you find that you run into very few of them, and then you start realizing how unique that really is.
“After we won it, it was something I would say we used to be. ‘We used to be the state champions. We won it back in ’74.’ No, we still are the champions from ’74. They can’t take it away. I think that’s the thing that took me about 40 years to realize. It’s more special than I thought.”
Sonya Ables, who had three children play soccer, and Jeannie Eskew, put together a collection of clippings and photos for each of the former players, memories galore.
“Part of my desire to help with that was simply I felt Brodie deserved some recognition,” Jeannie Eskew said. “He did an awful lot to get the program going at Wade Hampton and in Greenville County.”
“Brodie’s a good man, and everybody loves him,” said Alford. “What you see today is the same thing we saw 40-something years ago. He’s just Brodie Bricker.”
He just had a leg up on everybody.