Category Archives: Know Your History

Whitey: The One & Only

The first time the Craggs household received a call asking for Whitey, his mother replied, “There’s nobody here by that name,” and immediately hung up the phone.

George Craggs moved with his family to Seattle in 1947 and resided in Ballard until his death.

What Gladys Craggs didn’t know was that her fair-haired young son had acquired a nickname from his peers, one that would stick for the rest of his 70-some years on this earth, all the while becoming a moniker in Puget Sound soccer that was every bit as recognizable as any player.

From then on, noted George Craggs, “if they asked for Whitey, it was soccer. If they asked for George, it was something else.”

On March 29, George “Whitey” Craggs died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 87.

Whitey Craggs should also be considered a pioneer of soccer in Seattle. His tenure as one of the area’s premier refs is filled with stories of players whom he refereed but also gave guidance to as young men, including myself. Refereeing is not always easy, but he made it seem easy at times and wasn’t afraid to scold you if you misbehaved. A true legend of Washington state soccer.

Brian Schmetzer

Craggs was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1981, when the U.S. Soccer AGM was held in Seattle. “That was one time I can remember saying I know I’m only 5 foot (and 5 inches) tall, but today I’m 10 foot tall.”

He had officiated thousands and thousands of games, mentored hundreds of referees and interacted with countless players, coaches and fans during his lifelong devotion to the game. And yet, if Whitey had one regret, he had a hundred.
“I spent too much time going down to Woodland Park or wherever,” he shared in 2016. “I used to referee games seven days a week. Obviously, you’re away from home a lot, which I shouldn’t have been. I should’ve been home.”

Craggs clearly missed Pearl, his wife of 61 years. She passed away 16 months prior to that interview. He lost a daughter, Patti, in 2008. He is survived by daughter Georgia and sons Ed and Donny.

The Seattle area soccer community is vast in size but remains connected and close. Word soon spread of Whitey’s passing. Yes, he was one of the state’s few National Soccer Hall of Fame inductees, but he was more so known for his humor and humility in officiating all sorts of matches, from youth and adult leagues, to college and professional leagues over an estimated 40 years.

If asked to give a word description of Whitey it would be unique! He was definitely one of a kind. Unique in his humor, unique in how he saw the world, unique in how he refereed. He opened the referee door for so many of us.

Betty Schmeck

Craggs might have lived in the shadow of another hall of famer, but he blazed a trail all his own. Edmund Craggs, his father, was among the builders of the soccer landscape that developed in post-World War II Seattle. Eddie coached and organized youth and senior leagues. When his vaunted Buchan Bakers team was winning state titles, it was with minimal contributions from little (5-foot-5) Whitey. Seeking more playing time, the son separated from the father and joined rivals Germania.

He became a national referee in 1961 and began officiating NASL matches in 1974.

By that juncture, yet another hall of fame personality, Barney Kempton, had convinced Whitey to become a volunteer referee in the growing Catholic Youth Organization league. As Whitey recalls, “I said OK. I think you Catholics need a Protestant to keep you honest.”

That was the mid-Fifties. Craggs had landed in the Fremont neighborhood in spring of 1947, moving from Montreal. Initially the father and son sought out hockey opportunities, but settled on soccer, which was a going concern.

He once stopped a game at Green Lake so both teams could help put out a house fire; 30 guys in their kits throwing water on a house, with Whitey in the middle, directing traffic. The fire department finally showed up, and we all went back to our game. Funny guy!

Don Anderson

By 1961 Whitey became a certified national referee, and a few years later he was assigned an exhibition game between Brazil’s Bonsucesso and the Vancouver Royals and at West Seattle Stadium. The Royals were coached by Hungarian and Real Madrid legend Ferenc Puskas. Afterward, Craggs was curious how he had done. A friend asked Puskas in Hungarian, What did you think of the referee? “He didn’t say I was any good,” said Craggs, “but he said ‘We’ve had worse.’”

My fondest memories were him refereeing our high school games. It was like going to a comedy show. He made Seattle soccer a better place. Still scratch my head at some of his calls though.

Walt Schmetzer

Partly because he started officiating games played by peers and former teammates and partly by nature, Whitey developed a habit of conversing with players throughout a match. There was some smack spoken, but it was give and take. And while he was often accused of sight impairment by fans, his hearing was just fine.

Gary Shugarts, George Craggs and Neil West.

When he worked Sounders games in a sold-out Memorial Stadium in the mid-Seventies, he would exchange barbs with spectators. On more than a few occasions, fans would yell, “You’re missing a good game, ref!” Whitey’s standard reply was rapid and witty: “I know, but they sent me here instead.”

He was often chided for his positioning as a referee; he only occasionally strayed far from the center circle. When reminded that the players had run past him, he quipped: “They’ll be back in a minute.”

Within the past couple years, the long-retired Whitey answered the phone. A woman from a local Sunday league was desperate to get coverage for matches. “I said I don’t run any more. She said, ‘Just stand in the center circle, like you always did.’”

What a personality he was. So memorable and influential in so many lives, for generations.

Rachel Berg Belfield

Whitey Craggs at his ‘second home,’ Lower Woodland Park.

Rather than focus on the catcalls, Whitey marveled in how many friends he made in the game. He was wistful for the days when there was a greater togetherness between officials and players, when a firm word of caution was favored over the drama of issuing a yellow card.

As word of Whitey’s death circulated in the past few days, tributes and stories were shared online. Players who learned the lesson of not taking it all –the game, as well as life– so seriously. Stick to your calls, no matter what others think. Use humor to diffuse anger. The terms ‘legend’ and ‘unique’ are repeated.

Truly, George “Whitey” Craggs was one of a kind.

Now Online: The Life of Brian (Schmetzer)

While it was a standing-room, one-night-only affair, you now can absorb all the stories and banter from Brian Schmetzer: This Is Your Life, and do so from a comfortable chair.

In 15 seasons together, Zach Scott (left) and Brian Schmetzer created no shortage of stories. (WA Legends/Corky Trewin photo)

Washington State Legends of Soccer has produced their video of the event, held Feb. 28 at The Market Arms. It’s available, commercial free, in four segments, on the Legends YouTube channel.

Continue reading Now Online: The Life of Brian (Schmetzer)

The House Schmetzer Re-Built

Most have heard the stories of Brian Schmetzer’s days as contractor, of his knack for identifying a problem and intuitively identifying a fix. His latest remodeling project has been on Occidental Avenue, specifically flipping CenturyLink Field from an address with a Welcome mat to a destination out-of-towners would just as soon avoid.

Since his hiring last summer, the CLink is The House Schmetzer Re-built. Going into Atlanta United’s visit, Seattle is on the verge of claiming one of the top home unbeaten runs of all-time.

The home-opening win over New York was Seattle’s fifth straight in all competitions. (Courtesy Sounders FC/Jane Gershovich)

Dating back to those formative days in Memorial Stadium, the Sounders have fashioned a formidable (.716) win percentage) at home. Across all competitions, Seattle (including iterations of Sounders, plus the Storm) own 17 home unbeaten streaks of 10 or more matches. That’s impressive. So is the fact that the Rave can crack the top nine on Friday.

Continue reading The House Schmetzer Re-Built

Goal-Setting: Taking Aim on Records

A staple of many a preseason camp is goal-setting. It taps into the competitive nature of athletes and coaches, to aspire and work toward targets, both for the individuals and the collective, the team.

They must be specific and measurable; within reason, but also just out of reach. To reach these goals will require more than before. Goal-setting asks us to give it everything we’ve got, and then some.

The urge to extrapolate the Nicolas Lodeiro effect over a full season has Sounders fans dreamy. (Courtesy Sounders FC)

Entering a ninth season in MLS, Sounders FC is well into its adolescence. Whereas the formative years were filled with modest accomplishments – winning season series, making the playoffs – those benchmarks are now merely base camps for assault on the summit.

Continue reading Goal-Setting: Taking Aim on Records

Know Your Schmetzer

Although we know a lot about Brian Schmetzer, come Feb. 28 it’s certain we will know a lot more.

That evening Washington State Legends of Soccer is presenting Brian Schmetzer: This Is Your Life at The Market Arms in Ballard, and the lineup of guests promises to reveal a few more ingredients to the  Schmetz special sauce.

Of course, we are fully aware of his opening act as Sounders FC head coach. You know, when in mid-summer Schmetzer somehow righted a listing ship and steadily steered it through stormy waters, finally bringing home the bounty of an MLS Cup. We are also cognizant that Brian was born and raised in Lake City. It’s what happened along the way in connecting those two events that Tuesday night’s audience will absorb.

Continue reading Know Your Schmetzer

The Gifts of Cliff McCrath

Wanted: Someone to supervise 300 kids 24/7 during summer, take 22 rowdy college boys cross-country to win a soccer championship in the fall, marry a couple on Saturday, christen a newborn on Sunday, keynote a corporate speech to hundreds first thing Monday and pull votes for a stadium initiative on Tuesday. Ten fingers not necessary. Sense of humor a must.

Unless your name happens to be Charles Clifford McCrath, there’s no need to apply.

Cliff McCrath often shares company with soccer’s royalty, in this instance Pelé.

On Saturday, Feb. 11, a true treasure of Seattle and soccer, Cliff McCrath, will be inducted into Seattle Pacific University’s Falcon Legends Hall of Fame. McCrath knows the drill. After all, it’s his 10th such enshrinement around the country.

Unlike the others, however, this will be celebrated on his turf, where since arriving 47 years ago he grew to be an outsized figure capable of accomplishing amazing feats for a sport that, at times, struggled to take hold.

Continue reading The Gifts of Cliff McCrath

First, and Creating a Belief That Would Last

When Seattle Pacific soccer alumni of a certain age inevitably gather, there’s no shortage of stories.

From tales of seemingly endless cross-country road trips to innumerable narratives regarding their leader, Uncle Nubby, there is plenty of fodder. And while hundreds of alums experienced final fours and dozens contributed to the Falcons’ five championships, there’s a certain reverence for those who did it first.

Two overtimes? Actually it was three.

By winning the 1978 NCAA Division II championship, SPU set in motion a Puget Sound tidal surge that would extend for more than 15 years and, some would argue, unceasingly to this date.

Upon returning home from Miami in early December of ‘78, Falcons coach Cliff McCrath, a.k.a. Nubby, took fast action on two counts. The first remains the most sensational and storied publicity stunt in our soccer community’s long and distinguished history. The second was to affirm the source of bounty McCrath molded into champions.

It was plain to see that Seattle Pacific was the beneficiary of leadership and coaching throughout Washington youth soccer, so he immediately drafted a letter to the statewide association.

“Eight of the starters came from the area,” McCrath notes. “Effectively, this national championship belonged to them; it was dedicated to them because these were their players.”

Uncle Nubby Did What?

Continue reading First, and Creating a Belief That Would Last

SPU ’78: First & Foremost

Many will dream, some will endeavor, but only one can be the first.

While the Sounders may now place a star above their crest, the side that first planted a flag at the summit in the name of Seattle is now about to be celebrated all over again.

On Feb. 11 Seattle Pacific University will induct the team that not only ushered in an era when the Falcons became the Northwest’s most decorated collegiate program but, more importantly, established a beacon, a belief, that teams from Puget Sound could be the best in the nation.

Wearing mesh jerseys McCrath purchased the night prior, SPU poses with its first treasure.

For nearly the first hundred years of soccer’s existence in Washington, it was a wilderness. Try as they might, to the rest of the land teams from these parts were unfashionable wannabes: Competitive within the region, yet not championship material. In 1978, SPU changed all that.

Simply put, in one muggy, arduous afternoon under a scorching Miami sun, a bunch of shaggy-haired boys under the direction of a seven-fingered coach blazed a trail into the future of Seattle area soccer that generations have followed ever since.

A Formidable Foe

Now as then, the opposition is oft-referenced as the Nigerian junior national team. In truth, Alabama A&M’s roster was only about half-Nigerian. But most of them started and the balance were largely Jamaican. The Bulldogs were defending NCAA Division II champion and ranked No. 7 among all divisions nationally. They would retake the mantle in 1979 and two years later, in 1981, AA&M would be Div. I runners-up.

Continue reading SPU ’78: First & Foremost

A Few of My Favorite Things: 2016

It’s now been two years since I began my blog and returned to writing about soccer, mostly in a Washington-centric, historical context.

Sure, there could be a compendium of such abstract topics published in a book someday. But why not share some of it soon, not later. Here, then, are XV pieces that appeared either on my blog or other digital outlets during 2016. I enjoyed researching and writing them, and hopefully you enjoy them as well.

I. Unexpected Title Run by Sounders? It’s Happened Before

Once you’ve lived through an epic turnaround, your faith becomes stronger. And for reasons illustrated in this Seattle Times feature, I always held out hope the Sounders would overcome all the adversity and play for a championship. As it turned out, they did their predecessors one better by winning the final.

II. There’s Something About Jordy

Puget Sound has produced some top-class strikers in the past, and I Continue reading A Few of My Favorite Things: 2016

There’s Something About Jordy

Since mid-summer there’s been little question whether Jordan Morris would be the top rookie in the land. All that’s remained to be seen is just how far our Jordy boy goes.

With a tight hamstring it remains to be seen how much Morris can contribute Morris in coming weeks. Yet his prospects are unlimited in the big picture, at least where Seattle homegrown attacking players are concerned, and he’s got no more fervent fans than the forwards in whose footsteps he follows.

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Jordan Morris became the fifth Sounder selected as league rookie of the year, all homegrowns. (Courtesy Sounders FC)

In the pantheon of Seattle soccer over the past 50-odd years, there have been some truly remarkable, even iconic forwards. Each experienced a great deal of joy while scoring an abundance of goals, albeit while using often vastly different sets of tools. And while still in development, Morris may prove to be a distinctive cocktail all his own.

Chance Fry has keenly followed Morris’s development for any number of reasons. First, Fry’s a Sounders fan. He also coached an 8-year-old Morris at Eastside FC. Beyond that, Fry has walked in his boots, playing a total of nine seasons for past iterations of the Sounders and FC Seattle.

“Jordan is having an amazing first year,” says Fry, a Bellevue native who debuted for the NASL Sounders in 1983 at age 18. “I’d thought if he could get to double digits (in goals) that would be fantastic.”

In fact, the pride of Mercer Island set a new standard for American rookies in MLS, scoring 12 times. Pat Noonan had totaled 10 in 2003.

For those who have witnessed the professional era of soccer in this area, Morris is very much his own man, albeit an amalgam of many characters to represent Seattle in the past.

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Chance Fry scored 61 goals for the Sounders and FC Seattle over nine seasons. He coached Morris early on. (Frank MacDonald Collection)

“Nobody’s completely original,” notes Fry. In terms of physical attributes–size, strength and build–“he might be like (Fredy) Montero. For flat-out speed, he’s got Montero beat but not quite Obafemi (Martins).” But then, Fry adds, “Oba’s a freak.”

A Brief History of Homegrowns

Pro-caliber scorers have been coming out of Puget Sound since before the first Sounders. Hungarian-born and Ballard-raised Les Mueller made a few bucks at the semi-pro level before a short stint with the Denver Broncos. But most recognize Mark Peterson as planting the flag for homegrown forwards.

At 19, Peterson burst on the scene with 14 goals in 1980, helping Seattle win an NASL record 25 games. Half of those goals came after rookie of the year balloting was completed; he finished third. His youth club teammate and fellow Tacoman Jeff Durgan won the honor.

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Tacoma native Mark Peterson finished as the NASL Sounders’ career goals leader (61). (Frank MacDonald Collection)

Fry was the next striker in the local pipeline. Both he and Peterson earned U.S. caps. After the NASL folded, Fry led the A-League in scoring while Peterson plied his trade indoors before retiring after just six years. Fry stretched his career 14 years, including nine in Seattle.

The next batch of homegrowns, like Morris, went the college route initially. Peter Hattrup and Brent Goulet starred at small schools (Seattle Pacific and Warner Pacific, respectively) before going pro. Starring for the Olympic team, Goulet would earn 1988 U.S. Soccer Player of the Year. Hattrup was 1995 A-League MVP.

The mid-Nineties featured the likes of Jason Dunn, Darren Sawatzky, Jason Farrell, and Erik Storkson. Prior to Morris, the most recent goal-dangerous locals were A-League/USL rookies of the year, Greg Howes and Cam Weaver, and, in the MLS era, Lamar Neagle.

Hattrup
Peter Hattrup earned A-League MVP honors in 1995 as the Sounders won their first title. (Frank MacDonald Collection)

The most prolific of the aforementioned frontrunners were Peterson and Fry, each accumulating 61 goals in all competitions. Peterson was the consummate poacher, faithfully making runs and forever getting on the end of things. Fry, a prototypical center-forward, often operating with his back to goal, is termed by Hattrup, “as a good of finisher as I’ve ever seen.”

Already Distinctive

From this canvas emerges Morris, whose silhouette would be instantly recognizable for his broad, hulking shoulders and pigeon-toed gait. He cuts a distinctive figure.

A dozen goals is just a baseline. “He’s got the physical gifts, but he’s got to grow into the finishing department,” says Hattrup. “He’s got the strength and the speed. His touch is good, and for as many goals as he’s got, his finishing is only going to get better,” adding, “It’s already gotten better over the course of the season.”

As a rookie, Morris converted 17 percent of his shots into goals. It pales in comparison to Martins, but it’s comparable to Eddie Johnson’s days at the CLink.

Early on, Fry detected unease in Morris, especially in light of the adulation and the Space Needle poses, a la Messi. “Jordan, he’s a humble guy and doesn’t like attention,” he shares. “I think he got a little overwhelmed.”

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Morris celebrates his late winner versus Columbus. (Courtesy Sounders FC)

Once Morris settled and Nico Lodeiro arrived, the growth spurt ensued. Lodeiro’s made everyone better, and none more than the rookie, whose sixth sense is probing those spaces behind the defense, an area Lodeiro is always looking to exploit with a penetrating pass.

By mid-September, Morris’s was not only flowing, his production kicked into overdrive. It began with his late header to break a scoreless stalemate versus Vancouver.

“It was an extremely important goal and for me, personally in regards to Jordan, it was a brave goal,” judges Fry. “Sticking his head in there the way he did and just going for it. That whole game he had been making good runs and he just kept going and going.”

Making the Sublime Look Simple

Eight days later at LA, Morris was smack in the middle of the match that turned the MLS Western Conference playoff race on its head. He struck twice in 10 minutes, putting the Sounders ahead, 3-1.

First he won a ball just inside the attacking half, then shrugged off Daniel Steres before igniting the afterburners for the breakaway. Later, out of a frantic goalmouth scramble, Morris calmly pulls the ball across Steres and slots home from short range.

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A late Morris header versus Vancouver launched a four-match win streak. (Courtesy Sounders FC)

“The first goal was a great goal, but the second goal was downplayed by Alexi (Lalas, FOX analyst), where he said it was a simple finish. No, it wasn’t,” contends Fry. “It was completely great composure. He made it look simple, but it was far from simple.”

Making the sublime look simple is a gift. As Morris matures, as his belief in his own abilities grows, such exploits will be repeated on a regular basis.

“It’s part of confidence,” states Hattrup. Compared to college, the pro game requires much more precision. “The windows are smaller, (but) he’s strong enough and fast enough that he’ll create chances for himself.”

Fry agrees. He’s improving with his back to goal, and as his on-field understanding with Lodeiro (not to mention other teammates) deepens, there’s every reason to believe Morris will truly distinguish himself as a legend among Sounders homegrowns.

“He’s growing and doing better,” says Fry, “and we’re all super proud of how he’s doing.”