He’s called “Father Soccer” by those who remember when G.K. “Joe” Guennel spawned Colorado’s massive soccer movement decades years ago. The Colorado Sports Hall of Fame inductee didn’t intend to become a patriarch when he founded the state’s first five youth teams at Littleton’s Harlow Park. He simply wanted to offer another sports option. Guennel considered baseball his sport. Born in Germany, but reared in Pennsylvania, he had kicked a soccer ball around as a child, but never in an organized game.
While interrogating prisoners after World War II, however, he watched European youngsters play the game in rubble and ruin and concluded that American kids were “underprivileged.” Later, while working on his doctoral degree at the University of Indiana at Fort Wayne, he was motivated by some foreign students to form the first U.S. college soccer team.
In 1950, Guennel organized the nation’s first college soccer league with Indiana, Purdue, Wheaton and Chicago. Subsequently, he also founded, played in, coached, directed and promoted the Fort Wayne Sunday League. The latter led to a series of U.S. Soccer Federation involvements, 12 years on the U.S. Olympic Committee, and a like term on the USSF National Development Committee.
Upon moving to Colorado in 1961, the Marathon Oil Company geologist was more than receptive to the junior program idea proposed by transplanted Dutchman, John Meyer. He was ready to implement it!
The Colorado Junior Soccer Association was launched that year. Meyer was transferred out of state in 1963, but Guennel remained at the helm in the tidal wave of expansion for the next 16 years. Simultaneously, he began nearly equivalent tenures as president of the Colorado State Soccer Association and commissioner of the newly created Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Soccer League.
Guennel was an in-the-trenches administrator. He not only begged for fields but also lined them, built goal posts, washed uniforms, imported balls from New York because there was none available here, prepared and delivered middle-of-the night press releases, coached, officiated, fundraised, staged player/coach clinics and persuaded adult European teams to play Colorado exhibition games for his steadily increasing family of young players to watch.
He lobbied school boards and even mobilized the soccer community to battle an adverse Title IX court decision in order to make soccer a reality at the high school level. The Centennial League accepted it as a varsity sport in 1968 and the Colorado High School Activities Association sanctioned in 1971.
Dr. Guennel did it all…from scratch! And he still found time to spearhead similar programs in Ohio, Montana, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and Texas. Today the Colorado Junior Soccer Association program involves 41,000 boys and girls up and down both Slopes, including 9,000 members of the nationally affiliated Colorado State Youth Soccer Association for more competitive teams. CHSAA activity has mushroomed from fewer than twenty teams in 1971 to a big-growth varsity sport with 3,812 boys on 118 teams, 3,474 girls on 115 teams, in 1992.
Intercollegiately, the state has 15 varsity and 15 club teams for men and women. In the 10-league mountain and plains adult recreation program, there are 250 male, female and co-ed teams encompassing 6,000 players. Two semi-pro teams also are an outgrowth of the Guennel era.
“It’s rewarding,” the retired Littleton resident said of the soccer scene, “but the thing that pleases me the most about my induction is its reflection of the sport’s stability. It’s part of the fabric of the community now.”
It’s rewarding, but the thing that pleases me the most about my induction is its reflection of the sport’s stability. It’s part of the fabric of the community now.