Walker Brittain, CFNN Sports Editor
Like a phoenix reborn, or like a power ballad from a big-haired rock group, Cape Fear’s soccer team leapt back onto the stage in the mid-80s with a new crew, and a new attitude to match a new decade.
“I do remember that we all liked the vibe of soccer in the 80s, especially the hair and the clothes,” said Jerrell Coleman, a 1987 Cape Fear graduate. “I remember hearing a Bon Jovi cassette tape on one of the bus rides for the first time and that band was a staple for us during high school.”
After one season in 1979, soccer at Cape Fear High School did not return until the Fall of 1985, and when the call went out for new players, the response was neither immediate nor overwhelming.
“My friend, Jerry Raynor (later the Colt’s soccer goalie), actually signed me up to be on the first team without my knowledge as a joke,” said Coleman, now a real estate appraiser in Cary, North Carolina. “When Coach (Ronald) Ambrose called me about practice, I had no idea what he was talking about.”
A five-year absence from its inaugural season meant that Cape Fear soccer had to rebuild from the ground up. They needed a new coach and a new group of players who, like the original Colt players from 1979, had little experience with the sport.
“I had grown up playing the regular sports, and honestly. I had no idea what soccer really was and certainly had never played it before,” said Coleman. “Coach was short on players and finally convinced me to play. I thought it would be fun to do with the rest of the guys. I don’t really think any of us knew what we were doing, and I am pretty sure we didn’t even know the rules.”
While this was a new start for the Cape Fear soccer team, memories remained from the attempted launch in 1979.
“I do remember that we had a Spanish teacher, Mr. Rinaldi, and he was from Argentina, and in 1986, they won the World Cup,” said Coleman, remembering the original Cape Fear soccer coach who was still teaching when the team restarted. “Mr. Rinaldi was so excited about and talked about (soccer and the World Cup) all the time in class.”
While Mr. Rinaldi was excited about the status of soccer in the mid-80’s, other Cape Fear players signed up for very different reasons.
“I admit that I signed up in order to get a parking pass,” confessed Charles Brittain, another 1987 graduate, and this author’s father. “Back then, athletes got first shot at getting parking passes so when they announced over the intercom they were looking for people interested in signing up, I figured soccer would be a good way to secure that pass.”
Brittain, a Fayetteville lawyer, says that he had never played soccer or had seen a real soccer game prior to playing his first game as a Cape Fear Colt.
“All I knew about soccer came from Victory, an old Sylvester Stallone movie,” he said. “It was a different time. I don’t even think they offered recreation soccer on this side of the river. I had played football and basketball through county rec leagues, but soccer was totally new to me and most of the other guys on the team.”
Other Colts from days gone by note many changes in high school sports since their time on the Cape Fear soccer pitch.
“High school sports are very different now than they were in the 1980’s, especially in terms of going on to play in college,” said Howard Piland, a 1987 Cape Fear graduate. “Many people that I went to high school with played three different sports, but most of today’s athletes ‘specialize’ in one – or at most two – sport and any athlete with aspirations of playing a sport in college will only be playing that one sport at their school.”
While many of the students were new to soccer in the mid-80s, there were some players on that Cape Fear Colt team who had previously played the game.
“I had played a couple of seasons of recreation soccer out at Fort Bragg,” said Piland, an information technology specialist. “At that time, Jordan Soccer Complex didn’t even exist and there really wasn’t such a thing as ‘travel soccer’ – or ‘travel any sport.’
“So, if you wanted to play soccer, playing at Fort Bragg was about the only choice. Fort Bragg was able to support soccer programs due to the international influence/interest that existed on the Army base.”
By drawing those students with Fort Bragg connections, the Colts soccer team was able to get its most experienced players.
“We had one player,” said Coleman. “Mike Bynum, who I think was in a military family and had lived overseas and played as a youth. Honestly, he was the only one who knew what he was doing so we would watch him.”
The first year back for Cape Fear soccer was very similar to the start of the sport in ‘79 with few wins, but a lot of heart and good times for the players.
“I mainly remember we lost a lot, but had a lot of fun playing and a lot of fun on the bus rides,” said Coleman.
“The thing that I remember the most about playing soccer at Cape Fear was the camaraderie we had as a team,” said Piland. “We didn’t win many games those first two years – I think we beat only South View our first year – but we had so many hilarious personalities on the team that we always had fun at practice and on the road trips on the bus.”
While the first season only saw one win for Cape Fear soccer in 1985, the second year had much improvement and growth for the program.
“I think that second year we squeaked out three or four wins which was a definite improvement,” said Brittain. “We also saw a larger turnout for team tryouts as interest in the sport grew.”
While those first years did not result in many wins for the Colts, their time playing soccer at Cape Fear started a love for the sport that those players still have to this day.
“During our senior year, we started a soccer club at Cape Fear to increase interest in not just soccer, but other sports as well,” Brittain added, stating that the group was started by the soccer team leaders with the goal being kind of like a sports booster club like Fear Factor. “We even sponsored an indoor soccer team after the end of the regular season and hosted a tournament in the gym at Cape Fear. We sold pins at Homecoming and sponsored a float in the Homecoming parade. It was a fun time.”
Soccer made its way into not just the soccer players, but to the Colts’ campus life, and the student body as well.
“At lunch time on campus, a bunch of the soccer guys would stand in a big circle and play Hacky Sack, said Piland. “Hacky Sack was very addictive. Many of the other non-soccer students would often join in playing with us.”
“Funny thing about all of this was I played a lot of rec soccer at Carolina, and I even worked as a referee for some youth games on Saturdays for a little extra money,” said Coleman, now an avid Liverpool soccer fan.. “When I got out of school and got married, I actually was an assistant coach at Lee Senior in Sanford for about 4 or 5 years and really thought about becoming a high school coach.
“So for me, although the beginning was very unusual, soccer has played a big part in my life since then. Funny how things work out.”
Others are proud for being even a small part of Cape Fear sports history, and watching later generations building on that legacy.
“Even though I did not start playing for a love of the sport or the purest of reasons, I do cherish my time as a Colt soccer player as well as those memories and friendships, and I am proud of the foundation that we built at Cape Fear,” said Brittain. “It is also great to see the kids of players who played during those early years taking up the sport and putting on the blue and gold.”
To quote Bon Jovi, those Colts will never say goodbye to the memories or friendships of the early days of Cape Fear soccer.