Kevin Schnepf, Published September 01 2013
Schnepf: Marlene Kraft, who helped start FM Soccer, calls it a career
Back in the 1970s in the Moorhead home of Marlene Kraft, there sat a tiny table in the dining room. You know the kind. The ones relatives will set up for all the kids to sit at for Thanksgiving dinner.
There was no food on this table. Only a phone and a folder labeled FM Soccer.
“For me, that’s where FM Soccer started … at the kiddy table,” recalled Jeff Kraft, a son who witnessed firsthand what his mom did for youth soccer in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo.
For more than three decades, Marlene Kraft saw FM Youth Soccer grow from the 250 children who signed up for the debut year in 1975 to as many as 3,200 in 2001. During that phenomenal growth, Kraft did everything as the program’s executive secretary – handling registrations, assigning referees, naming teams, ordering T-shirts, fielding irate phone calls and running the concessions stands.
She did this while she and her husband raised two boys (Jeff and Ryan) and a girl (McKenzie). Jeff and Ryan kept her busy, playing baseball and hockey. Ryan ended up playing hockey at the University of Minnesota. And, yes, all three played soccer.
“She was the heart and soul of FM Soccer,” said Harry Hawken, a past president of FM Soccer. “She was the spirit of soccer.”
That spirit will be gone when youth soccer starts up another fall season this weekend. Kraft, who began all this in her home back in 1978, called it quits this summer.
It will be the first fall without the face of soccer.
“This will be the first August that I have had off since then,” said Kraft, who this past month has spent most of her time tending to her flower garden.
“It’s the people that I met, the friends that I made. That’s what I miss. I miss the people.”
One of the first people she met was Vern Overby, the man responsible for starting youth soccer back in 1975. Overby, the story goes, realized he needed help. That’s when he called Marlene – a stay-at-home mom who had secretarial experience.
“Six weeks in the fall, six weeks in the spring is what he told me … that sounds good,” said Kraft, who quickly realized her new job would be a full-year commitment.
And for the first 27 years of what was supposed to be a part-time job, the office for FM Soccer was in the Kraft house.
She started with a typewriter and a cardboard box full of supplies. Eventually, she got a desk and a copier before updating to an electric typewriter.
When coaches would call for a last-minute change to their roster, she had to retype the whole thing. She didn’t have the luxury of a computer until the mid-1980s. She didn’t get a separate phone line until then either.
“That phone rang constantly,” Jeff recalled. “And there was no answering machine.”
Marlene also produced an FM Soccer newsletter which required an assembly line among the Kraft household. One person would staple the pages together while others would lick the labels and paste them on before mailing them to all those families.
And when youth soccer peaked to 258 teams, the Krafts were responsible for giving each team a nickname. That’s why many of the teams had nicknames from the NBA, NHL, NFL or Major League Baseball.
“It got to a point we were making up names,” Marlene said. “We even had the Honkers from Kenmare (N.D.)”
“I’m sure Marlene did more things for soccer than the board ever realized,” said West Fargo’s Jeff Volk, who was a longtime FM Soccer board member.
Marlene Kraft experienced plenty of changes. Many will tell you, she adjusted to each change with patience and a smiling face.
She endured the challenges of scheduling games at five different locations in Fargo-Moorhead. She spent countless hours at the Moorhead complex where Menards now sits and more hours at the new complex south of the interstate. She spent many hours at the Johnson Fields complex near NDSU and most recently at the Pepsi Complex near the Hector International Airport.
“She was the driving force,” said Joel Johnson of Moorhead, a past FM Soccer president. “She was always thoughtful, never a cross word … which is almost amazing. I don’t know if we could’ve found someone with those same talents and temperament. She was a jewel.”
The biggest, and perhaps most challenging change, came in 2001 when the recreation and competitive teams joined forces. Kraft said since that change, she has seen the number of rec players drop. Then in 2011, the Moorhead Youth Soccer Association and the Red River Soccer Club merged. It is now known as the Tri-City Storm Soccer Club.
“She went through some tough times with directors and big egos, but through it all she was very diplomatic,” said Jeff Quam, who was the soccer director of Moorhead High School in the 1980s and 1990s. “In that position, she may have touched more people’s lives than any other youth director in the Fargo-Moorhead area.”
“There was a lot of controversy when there was a lot of growing and changing,” Hawken said. “But she just handled it through thick and thin.”
Even when her hours were cut to 20 hours last year, Marlene still had a smile on her face. Her son Jeff said it didn’t end the way they wanted it to.
“But even my last couple hours out there, I loved my job,” Marlene said. “I just loved my job.”
Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor
Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549
Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be
found at www.areavoices.com