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Heinz Backus

Aug 15, 2018

As the story goes, Frieda Backus gave birth to a baby boy in 1929 who had a soccer ball in his hand. The father, Hans, immediately declared, “He already loves soccer and is a natural-born athlete!” This may just be local folklore, but Hans was absolutely right about his son’s future. By the time Heinz was two, he was running and kicking a soccer ball all around the house and yard, and it continued all of his life.

Heinz started playing for the ATS Bremerhaven Soccer Club when he was eight, and life was good for several years. At 15, everything changed drastically when his family was forced to take shelter in the cellar while 100 B-24 Liberator bombers pounded the heavy Nazi anti-aircraft artillery in the local seaport, and 60 percent of the town was destroyed. Like all young German boys, Heinz was conscripted into service for his country. His life was saved a few years later by a German Army Captain who learned that the training camp was going to be attacked by the Allies. He ordered the boys to run as fast as they could into the woods. Once Heinz started running, he kept on going until he reached his home.

It was extremely difficult, but after school and clearing rubble, Heinz and his friends found time every day to play soccer. He graduated from college and returned home to work as a construction engineer helping to rebuild his town and country. A favorite uncle returned to Germany after 30 years in the United States and advised Heinz that “there was no future here.”

Herma, Heinz’s girlfriend, became his wife and they started planning a move to America where they could have a safe and prosperous life together. It took some time but they finally received the necessary documents and permission to leave Germany in 1958. Thanks to friends who had immigrated to Muncy, PA years earlier, the couple had a place to live, and the friends helped Heinz secure a job at Sprout-Waldron, a manufacturing company that supplied machinery to various industries. Heinz took advanced engineering classes at Penn State to further his career, and spent his evenings and weekends playing or refereeing soccer matches.

A 1975 article in Sports Illustrated magazine introduced Heinz to the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) in CA with the announcement that it was going national. He wrote a letter to the group and was invited to AYSO’s annual meeting in Los Angeles. Heinz returned to Muncy as AYSO’s new commissioner for Region 90, which included all of PA. Another soccer lover, Billy McLean, was assigned Region 87, and they became the first AYSO commissioners for regional clubs east of the Mississippi. Heinz started knocking on doors searching for sponsors and volunteers, and noted that “it’s a lot easier to find kids to play than sponsors to pay.” His employer, Sprout-Waldron, saved the day and donated $200 for uniforms just in time for the start of the first season.

The region’s enthusiasm and support for soccer exploded and made the second season much easier. Although youth soccer was taking hold in PA, there was resistance from a school board member, who told Heinz, “Here in America we like football and baseball, not this foreign sport.” So Heinz ran for a seat on the school board and won.

Heinz was then able to bring Julio Mazzi, soccer legend Pele’s coach and trainer, to the region for team clinics, and the media started paying attention. Heinz was named the AYSO Area Director, and was responsible for the soccer movement not only in PA, but also Ohio, Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia, Virginia and West Virginia. An estimated 1,400 boys and girls on 86 teams in 10 different towns signed up for the 1978 season.

During the 1980s, the AYSO regional teams traveled to Germany for cultural exchange and soccer matches, and Heinz received a certificate of appreciation in Ocholt for his work with soccer-playing youths. The German teams reciprocated and traveled to the US. By 1985, soccer became a major regional sport, bypassing football and baseball, and high schools had winning soccer teams. For Heinz’s efforts, the PA House of Representatives and Senate proclaimed him” Father of Organized Soccer.” Additionally, his hometown Muncy named a local sports venue Backhus Soccer Field.

In 1994, Heinz volunteered for the World Cup at Giant Stadium in NY. His many tasks included security, interpreting, and a personal escort for Pele and FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) President Sepp Blatter, and others. He was invited back for the 1999 World Cup and was once again assigned to Mr. Blatter.

Heinz retired to Central Florida, where he continued to referee local youth soccer games until he was well into his 80s. He enjoyed hunting and tennis, but he especially loved to travel. He served as President of the Del Webb Spruce Creek German American Club, and was well known for his kindness and keen sense of humor. He was very excited watching the 2018 World Cup while reminiscing about his years on the field and involvement in youth soccer.

Heinz passed away peacefully on July 3, 2018 surrounded by his loving family, many trophies, awards, and the always present soccer ball – from his first day to his last, as the story goes.

During the July 6 Celebration of Life ceremony at Spruce Creek, FL and the July 11 service at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Summerfield, FL, Heinz was praised as a “tireless worker, defender and promoter of children’s soccer and he always kept it about soccer for kids.” There will be a memorial service on August 3 at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Miami.

Heinz is pre-deceased by Herma, his wife of 64 years, and survived by his son Brent (Linda), grandsons John and Michael, brother Rolf, wife Barbara, and many long-time dear friends.

The family suggests donations in Heinz’s honor be made to: Muncy AYSO-Region 90, PO Box 111, Muncy, PA 17756, or contact Greg Girven at muncyayso@gmail.com for more information.