Pleasanton has become renowned for its youth soccer programs. In fact, participation in youth soccer almost seems to be a requirement for residency in Soccer Town USA.
From small children in BUSC uniforms with their parents who coach, volunteer and in some cases played for the club to university students across the country who still wear Ballistic United jackets, 40-year-old Ballistic has a far reaching touch.
Forty years ago this program made a name and a place for soccer in the Tri-Valley. While 40 years is a long time for anything to stay together--as many interviewees pointed out--many founders of the program are still in town and remember the early days of Pleasanton soccer.
Over four decades ago, Pleasanton hired its first director of recreation, Gary Patton. After getting settled, Patton decided Pleasanton needed a soccer club. He got together a group of men, including Larry Boldrini, former BUSC president and coach.
"When we first started Gary Patton wanted to start a club," Boldrini said. "There were some other clubs up and down the Bay Area, so we got together, he and myself, and a few other guys."
Harry Miller was one of those original guys and, like Boldrini, still lives in Pleasanton. Miller and Boldrini are also Ballistic coaching legends.
According to Miller, Patton called Miller, Boldrini and Harry Reagan together to organize a league for the increasingly popular sport of soccer. While most of the men did not know each other well before the endeavor, Miller said they have since become and remained very good friends.
Harry, Harry, Gary and Larry, as the group came to be known, created six Pleasanton teams and, in the first year, they only played each other. Boldrini became the first club president and Harry Miller was the first vice president.
Early in the program, Miller called a friend who coached a youth team in Southern California. He invited the SoCal team to play his team, and from then on Pleasanton teams continued to play and travel outside of the city.
Locally, Ballistic played against Dublin and Livermore teams--both towns developed leagues around the same time as Pleasanton but Livermore got there first--and the league soon expanded to include Fremont, San Ramon and Danville.
According to Boldrini, the competition between these local clubs is the origin of the Al Caffodio league and Ballistic. While many people familiar with the league, but not its history, assume the name is a foreign term for something related to the sport or have really just never thought about it, the title has its own history.
According to Miller, the league was named after a man, Al Caffodio, who had a newsstand in Livermore. Apparently the generous local merchant never hesitated to give to the local kids, especially for youth sports, and the founders of the league hoped naming the league in his honor would be a lasting tribute to him.
The name Ballistic, now emblazoned across jerseys, t-shirts and jackets, is as old as the club, so where did that title come from?
"Gary Patton is responsible for the name Ballistic," Miller said. "What it was supposed to represent was speed and accuracy initially."
According to Miller's wife Georgianne, a well-kicked soccer ball is said to have the speed and accuracy of a bullet, which inspired the name.
In a speech given at the Pleasanton Museum in 2003, Gary Patton said the name had roots in the prevalence of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles in headlines at the time. Livermore's club was named "Atomic," due to its proximity to the National Livermore Laboratory, so Pleasanton chose the related name "Ballistic."
And so it began.
In the bleachers and behind the scenes
The 40th anniversary of Ballistic will be celebrated with a party in the park for players and their families, an event that is appropriate for an organization that is as much for the parents as the children.
"It's a community organization," said Karen Reedy. "It becomes a social organization where families get to know each other."
Reedy, like many of the people involved with the club, got started when her boys started playing soccer and the club needed coaches. She signed up along with her sons and has been coaching and volunteering in other capacities for the club for the past eight years.
Because many of the boys stay on the same teams as they grow through the system, the families get to know one another, according to Reedy.
In the early days of BUSC, the closeness between the families was further encouraged by parties and dances for the parents. For example, the tournament that Harry and Georgianne Miller started, which continues today, used to include a dinner dance for the parents with food, music and bartender.
"A lot of people will say, 'how did you do it for so many years?' and the thing was, it wasn't any kind of sacrifice," Georgianne Miller said. "It was so much fun."
Many parents today still value the relationships they have built with other families, but there is no doubt the dynamic is different than it was in the beginning. According to Miller, the camaraderie in the early days led to something that has not been attempted for many years--a musical. Three sold out Ballistic United musicals, written, choreographed and performed by players, coaches and families in the club, helped raise funds for the early teams.
Something that hasn't changed is the need for volunteers and the ability of Pleasanton parents to rise to the occasion. From the first six teams to the current size of the BUSC organization, all parties said the club could not be what it is without parents and volunteers.
"The people that volunteer keep it going, the people behind the scenes that people don't know about," said Tony Chavarria, whose title, technical director of Division 4, barely scratches the surface of his involvement in the club.
"Without volunteers we're nothing," said Nandor Krause, the current president of BUSC and fourth in the club's history. "We have a great town and a great bunch of parents."
The foundation and essence of any youth sports program is in the name--youth. With 1,660 players registered so far this year, Ballistic has a lot of it and the numbers continue to grow.
One of the major changes most often named is the growth of the club. The large numbers of players become most obvious any Saturday during season if you try to count boys in a BUSC uniform around town or drive by any soccer field.
As the numbers grow, the club has seen more and more former players continue on to find success in the soccer world. For some, that means playing college soccer with or without a scholarship. For a select few it means playing professionally, and for many more, that success includes coaching the next generation. The players that make up the program are an integral part of its longevity, and they had a lot to say.
"Being a part of BUSC has helped me not only succeed with soccer, but also in life," said former player Adam Sloustcher.
During his soccer career, Sloustcher played for Amador Valley High School, the USA Youth National Team, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Loyola Marymont University, the San Jose Earthquakes for two months through a development contract and, most importantly, BUSC. Sloustcher said Ballistic provided a competitive environment that helped him to improve as a player and afforded him high profile exposure, but that wasn't his favorite part.
"What I enjoyed most was the relationships that I built with the teammates that I had over the years," he said. "Together we traveled all around the country playing soccer. We went through good times and bad times together, and I could not ask for better kids to grow up with during my childhood than the teammates I had while playing for BUSC."
One of Sloustcher's coaches is also among the former players that have come back to Ballistic. Chavarria got started in Ballistic when the kids he was playing neighborhood soccer with recommended that he sign up for the club and hasn't stopped. His son, another former player, continued in his father's footsteps and is coaching now, too.
Chavarria also has good friends from his Ballistic soccer days, including Jason Maratsos. As Maratsos, who coaches his sons' U5 and U7 teams, brought the two boys to the field for an instructional training session with Chavarria, his former teammate greeted him and joked with him. Maratsos and Chavarria played side by side through Ballistic and then at Amador, and soccer still brings the men together.
According to Chavarria, more current players are already getting involved and helping out with the younger kids. Current BUSC player David Norton gets involved by helping with the beginners when he can. The eighteen-year-old Foothill senior plays soccer for his school and hopes to play in college.
"It's fun to get to work with the kids," Norton said. "My favorite part of Ballistic is that it's fun. I get to do what I like to do and you get to meet people."
Through the past 40 years, BUSC, as well as most other clubs in the area and across the nation, has faced difficult choices and changes. The direction the club has gone due to these issues has upset many people, including at least one founder of the program. Others say the changes are necessary and for the best.
One change that has reshaped the program was not voluntary. Several years ago the club's governing body, the California Youth Soccer Association changed the rules, opening formerly strict boundaries and allowing athletes to play in other towns if they choose.
According to Krause, the new rules did not have a large impact on the face of the club, thanks to the quality of BUSC programs.
"There is a very small percent of kids that play from outside of town," Krause said. "I think that says something about our program and what we are able to do."
For some, however, this change has taken away an important part of youth soccer. Since players pick where to play, politics can have more of an influence than pride, according to Maratsos.
"I would really like to see it go back to the way it used to be--pride in Pleasanton soccer," he said. "There will always be your share of politics, but I'd like to see it get back to kids who dedicate themselves to soccer take pride in it. They work hard at try-outs and are proud to make the team."
Bob Maas was president of BUSC when the rules changed and emphasized the positive aspects of the switch.
"I don't believe it was necessarily bad," Maas said. "It forced clubs to improve programs so kids would want to stay in the town they grew up in."
Another change, this time made by the club, led to conflict in 2000. In 1998 the first paid director of training was hired and in 2000 BUSC decided to include paid trainers and coaches for the competitive divisions.
For Miller, this decision meant a break with the tradition of volunteer coaches the club was founded on, as well as an intolerably high cost for registration.
"We were able to do quite well on a volunteer basis," Miller said. "Unfortunately our club led the way and now all teams in the area have paid trainers."
Miller, who coached the first BUSC team to win State Cup in 1972, listed the successes of volunteer coaches of BUSC competitive teams, including 12 state cups, two Western Regionals and One Pacific Coast Championship. He said BUSC is now committed to the new style, and in 2000 he helped a group of parents try to start a new league in town. For a variety of reasons, the new league never got started.
"To say Ballistic goes back to where it started. No. Not anymore," Miller said.
But Maas defends the decision made during his time as president.
"There is no doubt that the program in the early years was one of the best in the country, but times have changed," Maas said. "The competitive level of play has increased. It required that people who coach the individuals need to be more educated about the game and about teaching the game."
According to Maas, in order to have the level of expertise necessary for today's competitive leagues, BUSC has to go out and get it, but he recognized Miller, Boldrini and others for their impressive contributions to the club.
"They did an outstanding job and deserve all the credit in the world for what they've done and what they've done for the club," he added.
Krause acknowledged the concerns of Miller and others, saying the transition to paid coaches carries the risk of bringing in coaches that are just doing it for the money and do not have the kids and the program at heart. According to Krause, BUSC has been able to avoid that so far.
"I think [having paid coaches and trainers] is a benefit provided that it's managed carefully," Krause said. "We're very careful about that whole process."
On the sidelines and in your head
Whether the coaches are paid or volunteers, those affiliated with BUSC attributed the success of the program or their positive personal experiences to the dedication of the coaches to the game and the players.
For Chavarria, the best way to repay the coaches that shaped him was to continue their legacy and teach a new group of kids to love the game.
"I gained a passion from the coaching I received while I was playing," he said.
His dedication can be seen in the faces of 5-year-olds tripping over the ball to college athletes, posing for a photo with their former coach after a game.
In Miller's case, his dedication to the sport and his teams can be seen the moment you walk into his home. Every wall features team photos, posters teams made, special moments and big games, as well as photos of the children of former players who still keep in touch. As Miller recounts the tournament in Mexico City, the team that won the first State Cup for BUSC and a variety of other detailed stories and successes, Georgianne cautions him not to pick any favorite teams, explaining they are still close to a lot of the players and their families.
"You asked memorable times and there are so many," he responded. "Friendships we developed in the different areas are incredible."
For many players, the coaches they have had with BUSC have had a lasting impact. Norton, who is helping is former coach Chavarria, said most of the coaches are good guys. Years later Sloustcher still keeps in contact with the coaches he had through BUSC.
"I could not have succeeded in soccer without the help of coaches like Colin Lindores, Randy James, Tony Chavarria, and Lothar Osiander," Sloustcher said. "All of them mean a lot to me, and were not only great coaches but are now good friends of mine."
Time and again, coaches and volunteers said their favorite part is watching the kids, seeing the joy on the faces as they do something they love. One of Chavarria's hopes for the future is that this quality remains integral in Ballistic soccer.
"I hope we continue with all the kids having fun," he said. "Letting them play the game."
When asked what they hope for in the future of BUSC, Chavarria, Krause and Maas all said they hoped for more high quality playing fields. According to Maas, BUSC was pivotal in getting Val Vista Community Park. Krause said that those fields definitely help but that's not enough.
"If I have one legacy, not only leaving the club in better condition then when I left it, but also leaving the kids better fields."
According to Krause, kids need lighted turfed field, like the ones many other towns in the area have, in order to keep kids playing and out trouble. While the future Bernal Community Park includes such fields, they are at least eight years out. Krause said Upper Bernal could easily be converted to meet a need now.
A merger of sorts between RAGE, the girls' soccer organization in town, and BUSC is also on the list of possible coming changes.
"I'm optimistic that the boys and girls programs will formally merge operations," Krause said. "It's still in the courtship stages; we're dating right now. With any merger we have to take it slow to ensure success."
In a more general sense, Krause also expects to see the name Ballistic has made for itself in the past 40 years to get stronger.
"I do expect the reputation to continue to grow," he said. "I also expect we'll continue to provide a fun and safe place for kids to go and play soccer."
In the more immediate future, the 40th anniversary of Ballistic will be celebrated tomorrow, Sept. 6, with a celebratory occasion after the parade. The event for players and families will take place in the picnic area of the Sports Park from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. It will include food catered by Armadillo Willies, prizes and local musicians, and representatives from the City of Pleasanton, local soccer clubs and past BUSC Presidents and Board members are anticipated to attend.
For more information about the Ballistic United Soccer Club, registration, volunteering or general happenings, visit the club website at www.busc.org.