By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Hal Bodon is the father of Missouri Southern soccer among other places.
“Having come from Germany, soccer has been in my blood,” Bodon said. “And wherever I went I started programs if there weren’t any.
“The first one was in Utah at BYU in 1956. Then we went to California to teach in the Bay Area at Newark High School, and we started it there at the Mission Valley Athletic League, which was only the second league in soccer in the Bay Area. Then I went back to BYU to work on my doctorate, and I coached again for those two years that I was there. Then when I came to Missouri Southern and I saw those beautiful facilities and no goals on them, I thought there has to be some goals put on them.
“So I put it in The Chart (Missouri Southern’s student newspaper) that anybody who was interested in playing soccer come out on a certain date. We had about 50 guys come out, just enough for four intramural teams. That gave me a chance to look them over and see if we had any local talent already. And we did, so we told them we’d have a (club) program start in the fall.”
That was 1972, and the Lions went 1-13-1 that season as a club team.
“We beat Lindenwood,” Bodon said, “and in the Evangel Tournament we had to play Lindenwood again, and they beat us for their only win of the season. At least neither one of us got shut out.”
Missouri Southern’s Hall of Fame Weekend last week coincided with the 40-year anniversary of the first men’s soccer game in school history — Sept. 21, 1972 against NAIA powerhouse Rockhurst.
“Our goal was to keep Rockhurst under 10 goals ... by halftime,” Bodon said. “So when it was 0-0 after 44 minutes, we thought we were going to get out of the half not being scored on. But in the 45th minute they scored two goals, so we went into halftime down 2-0.
“At halftime I told the guys don’t let them score eight more. No coach ever says that. A coach should say we can score three goals and win, but the players knew exactly how good they were and how good Rockhurst was. Tony Tocco, the coach at Rockhurst, was so upset with his players that he made them run four laps around the field at halftime when they were supposed to rest.
“In the second half they scored five more goals. So we lost that game 7-0, and we came off the field cheering, high-fiving, and (Rockhurst’s players) must have thought these guys have lost their mind. They got to run laps and we got to sit in the bleachers and cheer.”
After that first year, the Lions’ program improved, partly because players from St. Louis — a high school soccer hotbed — discovered the school had a team. The Lions’ coaches and players then helped start the youth program at the Joplin Boys Club, which then expanded to area high schools as those kids got older.
A potential trip to Poland led to the program moving up to an intercollegiate team.
“In 1976 (the United States) celebrated our bicentennial,” Bodon said. “I told the players for our 200th anniversary, as a birthday present they should give themselves, they should raise the funds for us to go behind the Iron Curtain and play against the Polish teams. Poland was about as safe a country at that time that we could go to. I contacted the Polish Futbol Association, and they were so happy to host us.
“So we started organizing, and I think Dr. (Leon) Billingsly got a little concerned to send us over behind the Iron Curtain. He said ‘I’ll tell you what we’ll do. You can either go to Poland, which is a one-shot deal, or I can go to the Board of Regents and propose that we adopt soccer as one of our athletic program sports.’ I talked to the players, and to a man they wanted the athletic department.”
Bodon compiled a 138-74-21 record in 11 seasons as the Lions’ coach. The program continued until Jan. 2009 when it was dropped for financial reasons.
“It hurt me, and it hurt a lot of the players because they know how valuable it was in their career,” Bodon said. “But I fully understand that if you don’t have the finances, you can’t do it. We’re not like the U.S. Government, which just keeps printing bills.
“But we still have a good women’s program, so I’m not all that disappointed because the women are just as important as the men. I’m not that chauvinistic to think only the men count. I’m really very pleased. I watched a game (Friday). They played a whale of a game and beat Fort Hays 2-1. I thought it was a great effort.”