West Virginia University Honors Soccer Players at 50th Reunion
Paglia, Ron, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
They didn't set out to become part of West Virginia University's athletic history, but Ralph "Butch" Rossi and Jack Shannon did just that, as pioneers of sorts.
Rossi, a native of Dunlevy, and Shannon, who grew up in Allenport, were among the former players honored at the golden anniversary celebration of WVU men's soccer.
"It was quite a weekend, a time for sharing a lot of great memories with men who have played at West Virginia the past 50 years," said Rossi, who lives in Greensboro, N.C.
The two-day event in Morgantown included a reception at Dick Diesk Soccer Stadium prior to the Mountaineers' 2-1 victory over Binghamton; a banquet at the alumni center featuring WVU basketball coach Bob Huggins as the keynote speaker; an alumni soccer game, and on-field recognition at the West Virginia-Marshall football game.
The reunion evolved as the result of efforts by head men's varsity coach Marion LeBlanc as a means of re-engaging the sport's alumni base.
"We had lost touch with many of the people who helped put WVU on the college soccer map," LeBlanc said. "I have met many alumni, but with 50 years of history I hadn't met nearly enough. It seemed like a great way to rally this group together again, bring them back to the campus and continue making them proud of their alma mater, on and off the field."
Rossi said LeBlanc, a graduate of Penn State, is "a great guy ... one of the hottest coaches in college soccer today."
Shannon offered similar sentiments.
"It was a pleasure to return to Morgantown and see the changes in the university and the soccer program," he said. "The soccer facilities are state-of-the-art compared to our early playing days of the 1960s. Now there's a separate soccer stadium that includes a well-manicured and lighted pitch, plenty of seating for fans, a beautiful scoreboard, locker space for players and a separate soccer facility for the women's program. Coach LeBlanc informed us that he now has nine scholarships to be shared with team members. It's very obvious that he and the athletic department have made a firm commitment to supporting soccer at the national level."
By comparison, Shannon recalled that when he played, the soccer team shared locker facilities with the track squad, practiced on a playing field that was not lighted and "there was no thought of a women's program.
"Our scholarships were limited to three and included only books, tuition and fees," he said. Therefore, soccer success at that time had to be attributed not only to those few scholarship players but also to the many walk-on athletes that made a commitment to the program."
West Virginia fielded its first men's varsity soccer team in 1961, and Rossi and Shannon, who lives in Raleigh, N.C., were among the early standouts for the Mountaineers in the years that immediately followed.
"That was a great time to be involved with soccer at WVU," Rossi recalled. "The program was just getting off the ground and was, quite frankly, truly at the bottom rung of the sports ladder. It was a challenge to all of us who played. We didn't have practice uniforms or a practice facility worth mentioning. When we got our first NCAA tournament bid, we had to borrow warmup uniforms from the WVU wrestling team."
But Rossi, Shannon and their teammates persevered.
"In the first eight years of soccer at West Virginia University we compiled a 67-20-4 record, not bad for a 'start-up' program," Rossi said. "We won three Southern Conference championships, received two NCAA bids and produced three All-Americans."
Shannon, a 1964 graduate of Charleroi High School, distinguished himself as a soccer player as a scholarship player at West Virginia by being named to the All Southern Conference team in 1965 and '66 and as an All American candidate in 1966 and 1967. …