Monday, August 04, 2008

True Colors Shine at Shrine

By P.J. Harmer
Oneonta Daily Star Staff Writer
Published: August 04, 2008 04:00 am

North Carolina women's soccer coach Anson Dorrance watches from the sidelines in this Oct. 2001 photo in Chapel Hill, N.C. (AP Photo/Bob Jordan

ONEONTA- It's not often you'll catch Anson Dorrance wearing red.

The University of North Carolina women's soccer coach made an exception Sunday at the National Soccer Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony when former player Mia Hamm presented Dorrance with a red jacket that honored his induction.

Dorrance entered the Hall with former U.S. National Team midfielder Hugo Perez inside the Hall's museum in front of a gathering Hall officials estimated at 400. Ike Kuhns, a former writer with the Newark Star-Ledger, was honored with the Colin Jose Media Award.

Jacket aside, Dorrance found a touch of Carolina blue _ his gold Hall of Fame ring sported a UNC logo.

"That's to offset this North Carolina State red," Dorrance said with a laugh after the ceremony. "It was difficult, but obviously with all those people watching, it wouldn't have been an appropriate time to reject the color. But the jacket feels good. As long as I don't have to look at it, I'm not suffering."

Former UNC standout and U.S. National Team star Hamm, a 2007 inductee, gave an emotional introductory speech for Dorrance, pausing several times to compose herself.

"I have a big task here today," Hamm said. "... We all know he's a master motivator. Carla Overbeck (a 2006 inductee who also played at North Carolina) said he could motivate a rock. But his motivation isn't limited to the field of play.

"He taught us to appreciate and respect the differences in each other," she continued. "He made us more than a team. He made us a family."

Dorrance's 21-minute speech closed the 1:15 ceremony.

He covered his long career, spoke of his birth in Bombay, India, and his travels throughout the world as a child. He thanked family, friends, former players, and for several minutes early in his speech, he spoke directly to Hamm, who he first saw play soccer at 14.

By the time Hamm was 15, she had made the national squad and by 16, she was attending the UNC, where Dorrance served as her legal guardian after her parents moved to Rome.

"What she shared was so poignant and articulate," Dorrance said after the ceremony. "I wanted to let her know I appreciated it, so the only way, of course, is to thank her that way."

Dorrance, elected in the Builders category, presented Hamm last year _ the third person he had introduced in recent years, following Shannon Higgins-Cirovsky in 2002 and Michelle Akers in 2004.

Hamm said speaking on behalf of Dorrance was harder than making her induction speech last year.

"It's much tougher to introduce him," Hamm said. "Just because of that responsibility. It's not like he called me up and said Here it is.' It's just I know the players I played with that went to Carolina and played on the national team. I know how I feel about them and I know how they feel about him."

Dorrance, 57, is 648-32-19 over 29 years with the UNC women. His teams have won 18 NCAA Division I championships, the last coming in 2006. He also led the Tar Heels to the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women title in 1981, the only year the tournament was held.

He coached the UNC men's team from 1977-88, leading the Tar Heels to the Atlantic Coast Conference crown in 1987. From 1979-88, he coached the men's and women's teams.

Dorrance led the U.S. Women's National Team from 1986-94, going 65-22-5 and winning the 1991 World Cup championship.

"Thank you for inviting me here. No, I'm not in the thoroughbred category," Dorrance said with a smirk as he turned to the wall behind him and pointed to a banner showing an image of Dorrance coaching and one of Perez playing. "I can see the difference in how the thoroughbreds dress from the Clydesdales. I appreciate being included."

Dorrance said he never worried about gender growing up because his sister and mother were strong athletes.

As a youth, Dorrance said he won a boxing tournament at school. So his father told his younger sister, Maggie, to get some gloves. One punch from Maggie sent a tooth flying down Dorrance's throat, a punch he said ended his boxing days.

"When I was growing up, I never had any preconceived notions that men and women were different, athletically," he said. "I didn't have any real sports heroes. I was never really a spectator. In my sports world, people played, they didn't watch."

Dorrance remained solid throughout his speech, getting emotional only when talking about meeting his wife, M'Liss. He then composed himself thanked her for standing by him.

"She encouraged me, long before I could see it, to chase and exceed my dreams," Dorrance said.

Perez's speech lasted 3:50.

"I've been very fortunate to play this game," said Perez, a Veterans Committee selection who scored 13 goals in 73 international games for the United States. "I tell my children there's no better way to spend life than as a professional athlete. ... I was very excited (about being inducted), but now I realize how important and beautiful this is. I don't know if I belong here, but I'm thankful."

A skilled midfielder with strong ball-handling skills, Perez, 44, played in the 1994 World Cup. He also played three seasons in the North American Soccer League and four years in the Major Indoor Soccer League, including 1998 when he earned MVP honors for San Diego in the MISL championship series.

His brother, Nelson, presented him Sunday.

"I was the one who had to sacrifice and stay home," Nelson Perez said with a smile. "I was the one that cleaned up for him and after him. I resented it for years. Now, I know the reason for that _ the Soccer Hall of Fame. I used to mop, sweep and do dishes while he was out playing soccer. Maybe I didn't play soccer, but he did and he did it right."

After presenting Hugo Perez with the red jacket, the brothers embraced.

After the ceremony, Perez said he didn't realize his brother would mention the past.

"It's true. I played soccer all day, so he was the one doing other things that I probably should have been doing," he said. "But I thank him. We're very close now, more than when we were little kids because I was always on the street playing and he was at home."

Kuhns joined the Newark Star-Ledger in 1965 and remained there until retiring in 2001. He covered the New York Knicks and New York Jets, and said he had to fight to cover soccer. His soccer beats included the New York Generals, New York Skyliners, the New York Cosmos, the New Jersey Eagles and the MetroStars between 1967-2000. He also covered World Cups in 1966, 1970 and 1994.

"Soccer was not considered a major beat," Kuhns said. "... I came late to soccer. I didn't play it as a kid. I became a fan and a writer of soccer as an adult. I've had a wonderful time and it's been a wonderful ride."

Fourteen Hall of Famers returned for this year's ceremony, including 2007 inductee Bobby Smith, who sat next to Hamm during the event. Fifteen were expected, but Jerry Yeagley left Saturday night, said Jack Huckel, the Hall's director of museum and archives.

P.J. Harmer can be reached at or 607-432-1000, ext. 229.

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