Morrisville soccer ruled, and Papa Jobe was royalty

Morrisville College star Papa Jobe, from the 1976 yearbook.

Morrisville College star Papa Jobe. (From the 1976 yearbook)

There was a time when soccer was king in Morrisville, N.Y. …

A rush of emotions hit me last month when I saw the news that Peter McAvoy, the young man who was captain for the Herikimer County Community College soccer team in upstate New York, collapsed and died.

So tragic, so sad, so heart-breaking that this 22-year-old native of Ireland passed away in the prime of his life, after leading the Generals to two straight junior college national championships.

By all accounts, McAvoy was one of the most popular students on the Herkimer campus.

He fit in with the student body and appreciated his time just in upstate New York.

My thoughts were taken back to the mid-1970s, when another two-year college in Central New York was annually battling for soccer supremacy, and using the sweat equity of young men born in other lands to achieve such heights.

Art Lemery, the coach who led the Mustangs to greatness. (From 1976 yearbook)

Art Lemery, the coach who led the Mustangs to greatness. (From 1976 yearbook)

Art Lemery was the coach who had the knack of finding a few young men born in faraway places to fit in with New York state players to form a hearty bond that not only was famous all through campus, but extended from dorm to dorm and classroom to classroom and bar to bar.

Lemery was a friendly sort, intense on the sidelines during the games but quick with a hello around campus.

In my two years at Morrisville Agricultural and Technical College, one heck of a rural place for New York State to place its only public university journalism program at the time, the foreign born players were Papa Jobe and Gus Owusu, of Africa, and Elias Mena, of El Salvador.

Jobe was tall, sleek, fast, regal, quick with his feet and his head, and unquestionably the best soccer player on the field every time he stepped on the turf.

Gus Owusu

Gus Owusu

Owusu was short, plucky, funny, tough, quick with his feet, and unwilling to back down from any opponent, no matter what.

Off the field, though, he was always smiling.

If you saw Gus Owusu across the quad and waved, he’s run across so you couldn’t duck into a building before he got the chance to day hi back.

A yearbook story in 1976 about Owusu included the headline “Son of a Chief.”

The article said Gus was one of 99 sons and daughters to his father, Nama Owusu Gyamfi. Nama meant chief.

Elias Mena

Elias Mena

Mena was thick, strong, precise, commanding, smart, strategic, and always striving to live up to his nickname of Guanaco. “Hard-working burro,” he’d say to me with a smile, time after time, whether we be talking about soccer, studies, or life in general.

Out of the three players from other countries, I knew Elias best. He was roommates in West Hall with my journalism classmate and best friend, Greg Ten Eyck.

Elias turned me on to a less mainstream side of the music of Carlos Santana, I recall, spinning “Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles Live: Love, Devotion & Surrender.” A group of us would sit in he and Greg’s room, dreaming big dreams, grooving to the soulful guitar and funky drums.

Home soccer games at Morrisville were big-time events.

The two-year college didn’t have a football team, so athletic director John DeVencenzo wisely scheduled as many home games as he could for Saturday afternoons. With the soccer team’s success, the famously “suitcase campus” would remain more vibrant until the games were concluded.

Still bucolic, the soccer field at Morrisville looks out over the hills of Madison County.

Still gorgeous, the soccer field at Morrisville looks out over the hills of Madison County.

The field sat at the base of a hill on the outer edge of campus. A thousand or so students would sit on the grass, cheering for the green-uniformed Morrisville Mustangs. Beer was usually involved in the rooting process.

Behind the hill was a cornfield. The cornfield was usually involved in the beer process.

Eventually, the most vocal fans started an informal group called The Rowdies.

The cheerleaders would stand on the other side of the field and cheer, as loud as they could, “Hey, Rowdies, Who you rooting for?” And the 100 or so boisterous boys and couple brave girls would answer “M-A-T-C.” Then we Rowdies would shout the same question to the cheerleaders, and they would respond.

When it rained, students would slip and slide down the hill, unwillingly, toward the field, and crawl back up to the group to cheer some more.

Visiting fans and parents of any players did not know what to make of this scene.

MATC’s two toughest rivals in the NJCAA Region were Monroe and Fulton-Montgomery.

One playoff game came on the road against Monroe, just outside of Rochester.

We Rowdies flagged down everybody on campus we knew who owned a car to form a caravan.

Midway through the game, Papa Jobe went down with an injury, grabbing his leg and writhing in pain.

We Rowdies held our breaths.

His teammates carried Papa off the field, where he lied prone as a trainer poked and prodded. His teammates hung their heads. The Monroe players gained a bounce to their steps.

The field seemed to tilt toward the Morrisville goal for a couple of minutes.

Suddenly Papa Jobe bounced up on his feet, raced to the scorer’s table and re-entered the game. The Rowdies cheered. His teammates cheered. The Monroe players hung their heads.

Morrisville won.

Another playoff game loomed at home, in November.

The night before the game, it snowed. A lot.

That morning, we Rowdies met at the field with Activities Director Tony Patane, a lot of shovels, one snowblower and a flatbed truck.

The entire soccer field was cleared of a foot of snow.

Morrisville won.

The Mustangs made the national tournament that year, but did not capture the title.

From SUNY Morrisville Wall of Fame

From SUNY Morrisville Wall of Fame

But Morrisville did win its first NJCAA national championship for coach Art Lemery, in 1980.

From SUNY Morrisville Wall of Fame

From SUNY Morrisville Wall of Fame

Art Lemery took on the additional duties of Morrisville athletic director after DeVencenzo retired. He retired as soccer coach in 1995. He still lives happily just outside of the Morrisville campus. His son, Tom, is known as “the voice of Morrisville” for announcing the college’s games on radio.

From SUNY Morrisville Wall of Fame

From SUNY Morrisville Wall of Fame

Ousman “Papa” Jobe was inducted into the SUNY Morrisville Wall of Fame in 2013. Many of his teammates returned for the ceremony, including Gus Owusu.

Athletic achievement celebrated at SUNY Morrisivlle.

Athletic achievement celebrated at SUNY Morrisivlle.

The Wall of Fame hangs proudly next to the Hall of Champions trophy case in the lobby of the SUNY Morrisville Student Activities Building. A soccer ball from the 1980 championship season is prominently displayed in the middle of the trophy case.

SUNY Morrisville's state-of-the-art stadium hosts some soccer games, too.

SUNY Morrisville’s state-of-the-art stadium hosts some soccer games, too.

SUNY Morrisville now hands out four-year degrees as well as associate’s degrees. Sports teams play against other four-year colleges. Morrisville fields a football program.

The football team plays in a modern new stadium equipped with artificial turf.

Soccer is no longer the king of fall sports at Morrisville.

Former Morrisville soccer players gather with coach Art Lemery. (Courtesy of Morrisville Alumni Relations)

Former Morrisville soccer players gather with coach Art Lemery. (Courtesy of Morrisville Alumni Relations)

Nevertheless, former soccer players still return to the Morrisville campus to visit with each other and their beloved coach, Art Lemery.

Was there a certain element of success at your college that you found surprising and particularly satisfying?

46 thoughts on “Morrisville soccer ruled, and Papa Jobe was royalty

  1. I played in the team while you were attending, Papa, Bob Wasserman & Keith Heider were our stars when I started as a freshman. Elias, Gus & Cherno Wadda were in my class of ‘78. What a privilege it was to play in those teams for our legendary coach, Art Lemery. Most fun years of my life, thanks for bring back memories.

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  2. What a nice surprise to find this post. I played for Coach Lemery on the ’69 and ’70 Mustang soccer teams, only the second or third year that there was a squad at Morrisville. I remember fondly the large crowds at the field and while the hill was great for viewing games, Coach used it for brutal end of practice sprints. The ’69 team was undefeated conference champions and was Morrisville’s first team to go to Nationals in Miami-Dade FL. Like many others, my years at Morrisville were among my fondest of memories.

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    • I am glad you found my story, David. That was a special time, when Coach Lemery brought soccer to Morrisville, and a campus fell in love with a sport and a team. Congratulations the success you had in your two years on the field that sat below that hill!

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  3. That was a wonderful post, Mark. I remember the Rhowdies on the hill, and I remember a guy named Doug Lewis. Soccer is finding its way again to top notch. Maybe not in the NJCAA, but the NEAC.

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  4. It was like I was reading my own memories when I read this. The Mustangs finished third in the NJCAA National Tournament our senior year. Good times.

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    • And you got to go and cover the tournament, as I recall. I think it was in Florida? Miami-Dade Community College? How great is it that they put Papa on the wall, and Gus came back to join him for the ceremony.

      Now if we could only find Elias. I got excited because my googling research came up with a guy working car sales in Florida. I looked and looked and looked at the photo and then thought, no, not our Elias Mena. Too young. Different face. My mind was playing tricks on my for awhile though, Twenty.

      Great to have you comment here. This was our life. Shults is commenting a lot now. Holy cow.

      Fill me in on Wow and John update with a regular email, please.

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      • Twenty! Mustangs lost in regional final following year when I covered them for Chimes. Heartbreaking..in the snow, of course.

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      • FMCC I believe. Game was at Cobleskill as I recall. Things well on LI. No shortage of crazies to keep a reporter busy. Mets need bats. Arms are coming…

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      • Mark ~~ you should ask my father Coach Art Lemery for Elias Mena’s information ~~ He may have it for you… I think all of his soccer players were amazing ! Ben Collins went professional, and he is such a great guy ! Have not heard from Joe Nepay at all….The field is named Lemery Field now ~~ quite an honor.

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  5. this is such a great post, mark. i love the rowdies, the snow-covered field, the players from other lands, and their great attitudes. what wonderful memories )

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  6. Once again, you have delved into the world of sports, of which I am not equipped to comment…except to say that I enjoyed walking down memory lane with you. You always make the memories seem so exciting! 😀 Great post!

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  7. I love soccer, still do, and I played up until 10th grade. A bicycle accident prevented my making JV soccer. Luckily, I went to SUNY Oneonta (for those joining in), and the soccer team at the school was decent. The location, near the Soccer Hall of Fame, almost random placement, a place that I have yet to go to, almost adds to the futbol flavor.

    Another puzzle piece: Morrisville is such a wonderful campus, but the last time I was there was in 2000. New York Boys State (if that isn’t foreshadowing for my short-lived political career, I am not sure what is) was held there. Too bad I have only kept in minor contact with one of the Baker Boys (our group of guys).

    This is a fantastic piece of your history and the school’s. I hope the school gets word of this. Very. Well. Done.

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    • I have passed that soccer complex on the outskirts of Oneonta on various daughter-related excursions, Chris, and always cast a curious eye that way.

      Interestingly enough, I went on to cover the U of Maryland men’s soccer team for two years for the campus daily upon transferring from Morrisville, so I guess I did not have my fill.

      I have posted the link to the journalism chair and the alumni page on FB, so, I know they are aware.

      Thank you, sir. I am becoming somewhat of a memoirist, and until somebody waved the red bull flag of Throwback Thursday in front of my snorting head just a little while ago, I was only vaguely familiar with the form.

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      • The suit fits you well. Lookin’ good, dapper. Then again, you can dress your words in many forms.

        Am I surprised? Not at all, but this leaves me anticipating what you have in store for future posts. Love it.

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  8. great story. I went to MATC a few years before you and was amazed that soccer was o strong, even back then. J-grad too. nice work

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  9. Great story Mark. Small towns are the best, and farms are even better–except for cows. My original college has attained University status now, but is still small and personal. More academic than sports related, but I think they do have a basketball team. My bro is a prof there now, as are several of my friends.

    Now, you should come along to Owensboro next weekend for the International Barbecue Fest. Fun and dining along the banks of the Ohio River, but don’t eat the barbecue there.

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  10. I love this story. Was this a big college? I ask because it reads like a small town story. I love the way small communities band together in support of their team. Chipping in to help shovel the snow, doing your part to secure the win! Love it!

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    • It was a small village and a small college, Sandra, say three thousand students and that many townspeople sharing a one stoplight town in the hills of upstate New York, 35 miles southeast of Syracuse.

      This Long Island boy had to adapt to a life where there were more cows than humans. And I loved it because it felt like we were all in it together, quite unlike the impersonal and frantic pace of downstate.

      Thank you for your kind words.

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  11. Was looking for some fun. This was in high school. In 1981 lived in the country outside Vancouver, BC. Walking in the park one day . . these girls called me over coz they needed more players. After 4 years together we came 4th in BC Soccer then took 2nd in Basketball. 4 overtimes . . down by one point. Fun times Mark, love your stories … c

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  12. What great memories, Mark. I covered the 1977 team for the Chimes. Coach Lemery could not have been more generous with his time! I remember helping shovel snow off the field for a playoff game!

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    • That day shoveling the snow is quite clear in my memory, Frank, as is the way that soccer was a magnet for so many good things on campus back then. We needed it! I hope all is well back home on the Island, my friend. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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