Along came Joan Hankins, a physical education teacher at Maumee Valley Country Day School. There were already programs established in places like Findlay and Sylvania, but she understood the appeal of soccer to youth and their parents. So, she took the initiative to be one of the area’s pioneers in developing youth soccer leagues. A Maumee resident at the time, Hankins is now enjoying retirement with her husband of 58 years, Bruce “Bubba” Hankins '53, in their residence at the Otterbein Portage Valley Retirement Village near Pemberville. She was always involved in community affairs, serving as the first female president of the Maumee Chamber of Commerce. A New York native, Joan recalls that prior to the 1970s soccer at the school level was virtually non-existent in Northwest Ohio. The game was avidly pursued by ethnic club teams, and her son, Bruce Jr., nicknamed “Chip”, began playing for a Hungarian team based on the east side while still an underclassman in high school.
Joan, a physical education at Maumee Valley from 1962-78, saw how much fun the game was for Chip and the other young athletes. “While watching Chip’s games, I realized that this was a fantastic game for the smaller and lighter child,” Joan said. “And, running up and down a field the size of our football fields never seemed to bother the participants. When I introduced it to my Maumee Valley students, they took to it immediately and loved the game, and they would run the entire game and never complain.” About the same time, a science teacher of ethnic European origin named Lazlo Koltay was starting a high school team at Maumee Valley. So, Joan began teaching the game to her elementary students. Eventually, with the help of Koltay, that led to even bigger and better things. “I realized how the little guys really enjoyed it and they didn’t have to be big, like a football player and even the skinny guys liked it, and the girls, too. Because we were a small school, on holidays with the Toledo school system, the kids from the neighborhood would often come over and I would ask them to play. That’s where I got the idea,” Joan said.
“So, we coordinated having the (Glendale) neighborhood kids coming over and play against our kids. Then, I realized how much fun it was and you could have a child run for 60 minutes and they would love it. There were not many other sports that I could find that kids could enjoy that way.”
From that, she began developing the Northwest Ohio Youth Soccer League in 1975 for her master’s degree thesis at the University of Toledo. “It was developed with the help of many area men who played the game. Others surely helped, names are now forgotten, but they include a tall, bright Brit,” Joan said. “Also, we went to Findlay High School, which had a very good soccer program already in place. “Then I had to get coaches and refs for the teams and games. Most of the parents didn’t know anything about soccer, which was a blessing in the beginning. I held clinics for those who offered to be coaches and refs.” The organizers were hoping for a sign-up of 100 children, but 250 registered the first year, and the following year they had close to 1,000 students. Joan knew right away she had her work cut out for her as the numbers continued to “mushroom.” From the 17 basic rules of soccer, she began with modified, simpler rules, because it was designed for students from grades 1-6. Everything is documented in her master’s thesis, which was completed in 1978. It was youth soccer at its best — small children chasing a ball around the field, no one really playing their position. “When talking about the games of the youngest children, our son Chip referred to it as ‘The attack of the munchkins on a soccer ball,’’ Joan said. At least it taught them something about the game before they got into high school, but sacrifices had to be made. “Findlay was the seat of excellent high school soccer and games in Findlay were notorious for bad weather, mud and so forth. Games were played in every kind of weather except lightning,” Joan said. “Spectators and players alike sat through some tough weather, the former huddled under hunting oilcloths and other paraphernalia dragged from a father’s trunk in attempt to stay warm and dry. It was often futile.” At the same time, high schools were developing club and varsity teams, and travel soccer for American youth was developing. “As parents and coaches caught on to what a great game it was and learned the rules,” Joan continued. “Many parents wanted the games to be more competitive, so they formed other leagues throughout the area, separating the boys and girls and began traveling teams. The parents also became more aggressive. That’s when I bowed out.” Even though soccer moms and dads rule today, often spending thousands of dollars to see their child travel to compete in other states, Joan is pleased to see the game flourishing. “Today, I still get a thrill when I see children playing soccer and love the development of all the many soccer fields in the area,” Joan said. “Soccer is an amazing and beautiful sport that so many can play and it’s often the shortest players who are the stars. Look at (Lionel) Messi and Neymar (da Silva Santos Júnior) on the Barcelona European Champions League team and the 2015 U.S. Women’s Team that won the World Cup — all winners. Her experience paid off for her son, Chip, too. He graduated from MVCDS with many honors, among which were The Headmaster Award for top outstanding student, the school’s Dick Nuzum Athletic Award for most all-around athlete, and he captained Maumee Valley’s soccer, basketball and tennis teams. The school’s soccer team won the City Championship his junior year.