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<< Staten Island Advance story on the opening of the National Soccer Hall of Fame

USA Today
Soccer Hall of Fame Opens
by Sean Mayer
June 12, 1999




National Soccer Hall of Fame press release on Jason's appearance at their opening >>

No matter who was in attendance -- players, history buffs, fans of all ages -- the grand opening of the National Soccer Hall of Fame on Saturday afternoon offered something for everyone.

"This is awesome. There's no other word to describe this place," said Tony Meola, a U.S. National Team veteran and goalkeeper for Major League Soccer's Kansas City Wizards, who was among the 1,000 fans who visited the two-story facility.

"When you're a player and you come in here, this is what you work for. "When your career is done, there's going to be a time period for 20 or 30 years where nobody remembers you. But one day, we'll be able to take our kids and our grandkids in here and be really proud that we were part of the history of this sport."

Meola was one of three renowned players who took part in the hour-long dedication ceremony. Eric Wynalda, a three-time World Cup participant and a striker for the Miami Fusion of MLS, addressed the crowd, as did Mary Harvey, a goalkeeper for the U.S. team that won the inaugural Women's World Cup in 1991 and the gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games.

"I walked into the rotunda, and to see all the faces of all the people that have been honored and inducted, it makes you just stop. The hair on your arm stands up, and you're like, 'Wow!' " Harvey said.

Television commentator Seamus Malin introduced the 10 speakers, from Oneonta major Kim Muller to U.S. Soccer Federation secretary general Hank Steinbrecher. Oneonta native Jason Raize, starring on Broadway in The Lion King, sang. And three sky-divers dropped to the ground a few yards from the building's front door.

But the featured attraction was the hall itself, no longer forced to share a parking lot downtown with a law office and a bank after moving to this 61-acre site.

The exhibits span the sport's infancy to its present. Among the displays nearest the entrance to the museum is what is believed to be the oldest soccer ball -- black, rubber, heavily-dented and dating to 1855. Toward the rear of the museum is a section dedicated to MLS, including team jerseys and the most up-to-date standings.

Brown and white pictures, more than 10 feet tall, of former greats hang high on the walls. Banners hanging along a staircase note the accomplishments of star players from 1916 to 1989. A giant television screen shows highlights from past tournaments. And displays along walls and in glass cases offer insight into the sport's origin and its development, with stars such as Pele given their own exhibits.

"I think it's amazing, because you don't have it in England," said Anne Flack, a 59-year-old soccer enthusiast and native of St. Helen's, England, who is visiting a friend in nearby Morris. "All the teams have their own viewing room with cups and trophies, but we don't have anything like this."

There's an obvious attempt to cater to youngsters, too.

"(The Hall) gives them the incentive to want to go out and play more, to get into the summer leagues that travel," said Dennis Scott, an Otego resident and auditor for the National Soccer Hall of Fame who became interested in the sport about 11 years ago, when his children began to play. "That's where the growth of this sport is going to be, with the kids."

While adults paused to eyeball the exhibits, the younger set gravitated toward the hall's interactive stations. By purchasing $2 cards, kids can have the opportunity to dribble through a row of defenders, test the power and accuracy of their shots, take a crack at their heading skills or go one-on-one with a friend on a miniature, enclosed field.

"It has a lot of interactive stuff you can do, and visual things," said Brian Barry-Austin, 12, of South Orange, N.J. "Before I came here, I'd never heard of this place. Now, I'll know it for the rest of my life."

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