The Long-Shot Season: In 1979, the Soccer Team Was Sinking. Then Came Trevor.

By Bob Fulton
November 30, 2012
Appeared in the
Fall-Winter 2012 issue of IUP Magazine

Striker Trevor Gladden arrived like a meteor from England, and took a struggling team all the way to nationals, leaving a trail of dropped jaws.

Soccer team in action on the field

IUP vs. Alderson-Broaddus in the Area 6 title game November 17, 1979, that would send the Indians to nationals. IUP players, in white, from left, are Tony Chibuoke (20), John Bouman (10) in back, and Trevor Gladden (9). Photo: Indiana Gazette

If you attended the game or have a memory to share, please contact Harrison Wick, IUP Special Collections librarian and university archivist, by e-mail at hwick@iup.edu.

Like a meteorite, Trevor Gladden arrived on campus from afar, quite unexpectedly, in the fall of 1979 and immediately altered the landscape.

The striker from Ipswich, England, helped launch what had been a low-profile soccer program to dizzying heights with a flurry of goals that included what must surely rank as the most improbable score in school history. With Gladden providing the spark, coach Vince Celtnieks’s team advanced to the NAIA tournament for the first time ever and pulled off a pair of upsets to finish sixth in the nation.

A feat so lofty would have seemed utterly unimaginable the year before, when the Indians stumbled to a 5-9 record.

“The prior season was probably the worst in my four years playing for the team,” said Mark Saunders, a financial analyst for the City of San Diego who was a junior midfielder in 1979. “We just weren’t very good. But then Trevor came from England and everything changed. He was a special player, and he brought our game up.”

The irony is that Celtnieks hadn’t even recruited Gladden. He enrolled in a graduate program because a teacher back in England, who had visited Indiana, suggested he come to IUP. Gladden would trigger the Indians’ transformation from pretenders to contenders during his single year in uniform.

“He made a huge difference for us,” said John Bouman, a professor of economics at Howard Community College in Maryland who was then a senior midfielder. “Who knows where we would’ve been without Trevor? He was just a tremendous player, kind of a man playing with boys, so to speak.”

Gladden earned first-team NAIA All-America honors that season on the strength of a school-record 17 goals. He twice scored four in a single game and added another as IUP rocked Mercyhurst 5-0 in the District 18 championship game. But they all paled next to his jaw-dropping goal at Miller Stadium against sixth-ranked Alderson-Broaddus (West Virginia) that secured the Area 6 title for the Indians and punched their ticket to nationals. His teammates recall that score with childlike wonder even 33 years later, for it came from midfield.

Tony Chibuoke’s goal gave IUP an early 1-0 lead, but the Battlers netted the equalizer with 27:12 remaining to ignite a frenzied, drawn-out celebration by the Alderson-Broaddus players and fans. Sophomore forward Jim Cunningham began to lose patience as he stood in the circle with the ball at his feet, eager to resume play. Then, amid the continued whooping, he heard a familiar voice.

Soccer Team

Photo from the 1980 Oak

“When they scored, it seemed like their fans—and they had as many in the stands as we did, if not more—were going nuts,” said Cunningham, a computer programmer in Bedminster, New Jersey. “The players were all celebrating with each other, and their goalie was out at the edge of the penalty area, high-fiving the backs. That’s when Trevor says, ‘Let’s go, Mr. Referee. They’re ready. Let’s go.’ So the ref blows the whistle to restart play, I tap the ball to Trevor, he kicks it, and it just sails over the goalie’s head and into the net. He blasted it from like 55 yards. Unbelievable.”

It was especially so to A-B goalkeeper Chet Fronzini, whose eyes bulged out like a cartoon character’s when he spied the ball soaring overhead and realized he was helpless to stop it. The Battlers, their elation turned to deflation in a heartbeat, never recovered. With its 2-1 victory, IUP earned a berth in the 10-team, double-elimination NAIA tournament in Springfield, Illinois.

Even coming off a monumental upset, the Indians harbored no illusions of challenging for a championship—they’d been long shots just to qualify for the tourney—and any hopes of extending their stay beyond a few days seemingly vanished when host school Sangamon Valley State smothered them 2-0 in their opener. Worse, waiting in the wings was at-large entry Alderson-Broaddus, whose players were burning for revenge.

“I don’t think anybody expected us to beat them again, especially the Alderson-Broaddus players,” Saunders said. “Their thinking was, we’re just going to punish these guys, these upstarts from IUP. We had embarrassed them. So we’re not only playing a really good team, we’re playing a team that’s angry.”

But the Indians ultimately proved their first win over A-B was no fluke. Bouman broke a 1-1 tie with a goal, and Chibuoke and freshman phenom Frank Wolk scored off assists from Gladden as IUP rolled to a 4-2 victory. The Indians pulled off another shocker the next day, beating heavily favored Alabama-Huntsville, the national runner-up a year before, by a 3-1 score.

“This is a big-time program we’re playing,” said Celtnieks, who coached IUP for 23 seasons. “They even brought cheerleaders along. So I thought, man, we’re really in for it. Then they score early. This big stud, six foot five, scores on a head ball, and I’m thinking, oh no, this is not good.”

The Indians, undeterred, began swarming the Alabama-Huntsville net. Wolk tied the match early in the second half, Bouman buried a penalty kick to put the Indians in front, and Wolk added an insurance goal. Goalkeeper Akomaye Adie-Ikor preserved the lead with a series of acrobatic saves as IUP humbled yet another elite foe.

“In some ways, it’s kind of hard to explain how we did it,” Saunders said. “We just played above ourselves, kind of overachieved, in some of those games.”

But just as IUP’s giddy postseason run was gathering serious momentum, Spring Arbor (Michigan) threw up a roadblock and won 3-2 in a shootout. The winningest season in school history (12-8) was, well, history. Still, the Indians could take consolation in knowing they had elevated their game—and the program’s national profile—that fall. With Gladden spearheading the charge, they cut down some of the premier teams in the land, proving themselves giant slayers to rival David.

“That’s a memory I’ll never forget,” Bouman said. “Going to a national tournament was pretty cool, and then to finish sixth? I look back on that as a great accomplishment.”

For one week, at least, the overachieving underdogs from IUP were a trending topic in Illinois—and even on their own campus.

“We had the school looking at us instead of at football and basketball and some of the other teams that were better known and more supported,” Saunders said. “Soccer in Western Pennsylvania back then just wasn’t a big sport. So it was pretty special for us to go to a national tournament and do so well there. For a brief little time, we kind of stepped into the limelight.”

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