posted October 15, 2009

A History of Hope College Soccer

The written histories of the establishment of intercollegiate athletics at Hope College are so often dotted with references to the creation of a particular sport for the welfare of the student.  This is particularly true for soccer.

In the early 1960s the dean of students, Jim Harvey, approached Dr. Phil Van Eyl, professor of psychology, with an idea: Would he be interested in spending some time with some of Hope's international students who wanted to play a few games of soccer? Dean Harvey knew of Dr. Van Eyl's long-standing acquaintance with the sport because of his European background.  Soon after, Dr. Van Eyl, with support from Athletic Director Gordon Brewer, purchased uniforms and scheduled seven junior varsity games.  The first year's team (1964) had an interesting international mix of 21 players, half of them foreign nationals from Africa, Asia and South America.

The game was introduced to Holland and Hope during halftime of a football game. After playing for 10 minutes, the soccer players moved to Zeeland High School (on another football field), where Hope recorded its first win. Hope went on to post a 6-1-1 record in its first season.

Encouraged by the success of the first season, Dr. Van Eyl proposed that Hope join a conference and that the college build a regulation-size soccer field.  The old estate of founder Albertus C. Van Raalte was determined to be the perfect location.  The cost to remove 27 trees and develop the field cost $1,800, which was donated by a college professor.  The Holland Furnace Company donated the metal framework to build bleachers.

Soccer became a varsity sport in 1965 and the Flying Dutchmen competed in the Mid-West Collegiate Soccer Conference, a combination of big-time universities and small colleges like Hope.

"We were from several corners of the world, different in native language and skin color, but all dressed in orange and blue, fighting like tigers to bring Hope the victory as Flying Dutchmen," wrote Professor Van Eyl in a 1999 article.

The budget that first year was $1,280.  Dr. Van Eyl and his wife did the team's laundry.

There was growing enthusiasm for collegiate soccer across the United States. Just a year after becoming a varsity sport, Hope changed to a new conference of colleges with a similar athletic philosophy, the Michigan Illinois Indiana Soccer Conference.

Dr. Van Eyl's academic obligations prevented him from continuing as coach after the 1967 season.  The athletic department took over the coaching responsibilities. Dr. William Vanderbilt, Sr., at that time an assistant basketball and track coach, became the head soccer coach.

Dr. Van Eyl recalled: "I will never forget Bill Vanderbilt setting himself down in my office and saying without any hint of enthusiasm, 'I've been appointed the new coach. Tell me about soccer.'."

A reputation for excellence in the small college soccer world has increased through a succession of coaches over the past 45 years.   Current men's coach Steven Smith ranks among the top 20 winningest Division III coaches.

Soccer became an official men's sport in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) in 1970.  MIAA soccer teams became eligible to compete in the NCAA Division III championships in 1977. The Flying Dutchmen have played in the NCAA championships 10 times, most recently in 2006.

Women's soccer became an intercollegiate sport at Hope in 1989, the result of the discontinuance of field hockey and the recognition of it by the MIAA.  Field hockey, especially popular among coeds from the East, had been played at Hope since the 1950s.

Hope won its first MIAA women's soccer championship in 2003. It marked a significant milestone because Hope became the first MIAA member to win a championship in all 18 league-sponsored sports.  It remains a feat no other MIAA member has accomplished.

The Flying Dutch  have competed in the NCAA Division III championships three times, most recently in 2005. The women's soccer program entered the 2009 season with a school-record string of seven consecutive winning campaigns.

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