By Scott Eddy
Assistant Sports Information Director
As it has for decades, this past fall the St. Bonaventure women's soccer team played their home games in front of supportive crowds filling the hill overlooking the McGraw-Jennings Fields. For night games, the team even played under the bright lights at the Marra Athletics Complex, as it has since the home of the Bonnies received a $1 million facelift in 2014.
Thirty-five years ago, though, the first women's soccer players at St. Bonaventure played in near anonymity.
Called the "best kept secret on campus" by their first coach, the late Rev. Ronald McIntyre, O.F.M. in an article of The Bona Venture entitled "Soccer Secrecy Lifted As Women Turn Varsity" dated September 1981, the very first women's soccer players at SBU joined together for the pure love of the sport.
A secret to most of campus, athletics staff members included, that first team paved the way for the next 35 that have followed as the Bonnies celebrated their 35th anniversary of varsity women's soccer in 2016.
"My first memories are of getting the club established," Theresa Flynn Carr '83 remembers.
"I started asking the assistant athletic director questions about starting a team. I did my work study as a lifeguard so I was always at the Reilly Center. I finally learned what I needed to do to start a club team for women's soccer and submitted the charter to (athletic director) Larry Weise."
Flynn Carr remembers that first team practicing where the Franciscan Friary is located today and on the front lawn of campus. When the team earned varsity status in 1981, it played seven games at the Division III level that first season.
In those days, women's soccer was just starting to rise in popularity at the high school level. Seeing the growth of the sport at the youth level led university officials to see its potential to benefit the athletic department going forward. At the head of developing the program was Fr. Ron, a man who left an indelible impact on his players and paved the way for the next generation of Bonnies.
"An enormous part of the story was Fr. Ron, a big man with an even bigger heart," said Sally Phelps '83, another member of the first Bonnies women's soccer team. "I'm honestly not sure how much he knew about the game, but it didn't matter. He coached us with so much love and support, we figured out the rest."
Prior to each game, the Bonnies would read a team prayer – Philippians 2: 2-4, 16.
"He wanted us to believe in unity, humility, and service to the world," Carr added. "It is a great passage that guided our lives as we developed into the people we are today."
Last spring, current Bonnies head coach Steve Brdarski established the SBU Soccer Alumni Weekend, bringing many of the first Bonnies back together for the first time since graduating. It also gave alumni a chance to meet with current Bonnies.
"When I first took the job, I learned how important alumni were to the University and the community," Brdarski said. "Last winter I was talking to Kelly Keller '95 and telling her about how I would love to know more about those who helped start the women's soccer program. She was instrumental in connecting me with Theresa Flynn Carr '83, Sally Phelps '83 and Maureen Connors Shepherd '84 to get the ball rolling.
"Everyone had such great stories about Father Ron and that first team. The story of the foundation of the program is very much a love story," Brdarski says. "The foundation of this program is built on love, sacrifice, heart and hard work and for 35 years that has been constant. The team was started by a strong group of Bonnies that loved the school and wanted to make a difference."
"Playing in the alumni game is something I will treasure forever," Flynn Carr said. "It reminded me that being part of the St. Bonaventure community is something special."
St. Bonaventure women's soccer alumni from the past 35 years pose with current players for a photo at last spring's Alumni Weekend.
The team prayer and team photo from the 1982 season.
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