The 1977 Hartwick team was one of the greatest college teams ever assembled with players recruited from two main sources: New Jersey (Billy Gazonas and Art Napolitano from Trenton, Joey Ryan from Harrison, Tom Maresca from Bloomfield and Khyen Ivanchukov and Zeren Ombadykow from the Kalmyk-American community in Howell) and the Merseyside area of England (Aly Anderson, Jeff Tipping and Stephen Long from Liverpool and Duncan MacDonald from Southport).
Gazonas, the 1977 Hermann Trophy winner, has published a 330-page biography on his four years at Hartwick. It's an inspirational story of how he went from an unused freshman in 1974 to the captain of the 1977 championship team. He followed his close friend from Trenton, Glenn Myernick, to Hartwick only to be told by head coach Timo Liekoski he should think of changing schools if he wanted to play.
The 5-foot-3 Gazonas was relegated to serving as a ball boy for the first intrasquad scrimmage and being the only Hartwick player not to get into the season opener at Montclair State with his parents in the stands. He pulled himself together after crying on the bus ride back to Oneonta and worked for hours on his own to improve his game and finally win over -- rather quickly -- Liekoski.
But "That Little Son of a B*tch" is also a remarkably detailed story about American soccer at the youth and college levels in the 1970s, unencumbered by the hyper-organized youth soccer industry that took off in the 1980s.
There was no ESPN+, no YouTube highlights, no soccer on television, basically, until Soccer Made in Germany came along in 1976, during Gazonas' junior year at Hartwick. Soccer camp served as the introduction to the beautiful game for a generation of kids. In the evening, campers watched films of great international matches that distributors sold to camps. Gazonas attended soccer camp at nearby Rider College, where his coaches were Manfred Schellscheidt and Charlie "Ping Pong" Farrauto, his mentor.
One of the the films they showed was the 1970 World Cup between Brazil and Italy. In 1976, Gazonas got a media pass from George O'Gorman, the Trentonian's soccer writer, for the Bicentennial Cup game between Brazil and Italy in New Haven and secured a spot 10 feet from the end of the Brazilian bench to follow the movement of the great Roberto Rivelino, converted from a winger to a midfielder, like him. (Gazonas has a photo of Zico and him on the field after the game as proof -- he convinced Falcao to take the photo.)
Youth soccer had none of the structure it has today. Without it, Gazonas thrived. In the summer, Farrauto would come by Gazonas' house early in the morning for breakfast Gazonas' mother cooked for them and then they'd head to a local junior high school, where Farrauto would train Gazonas and whoever else showed up until 3:30 in the afternoon. Gazonas would eat dinner at home and then bike back to the junior high school, where pickup games lasted until it was too dark to see.
At Hartwick, Gazonas and Myernick would play a game in the the backyard of their house next to the railroad tracks. As freight trains chugged by, they'd aim shots off the side of the freight cars. Gazonas tells the story of challenging Mooch. He called out "the first O in Oswego" and hit the letter. Myernick matched him, hitting the "L" in "Lackawanna," and they went down the line, calling out letters in the names on the side of the freight cars and hitting them while their other housemate, Jim "Harry" Harrison, pretended to do match commentary of the contest.
Myernick, who was elected posthumously to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2015, and Gazonas were back-to-back Hermann Trophy winners in 1976 and 1977. Trenton was one of the first American soccer hotbeds. Among the other players who came out of Mercer County in the late 1960s and early 1970s were Bobby Smith, another Hall of Famer, Tony Bellinger, one of the first players to turn pro out of high school, Kevin Welsh and Tim Murphy.
Ethnic clubs mostly dominated the New Jersey amateur scene: Elizabeth Sport Club, the German club where Schellscheidt played and coached, the Woodbridge Hungarians, Kearny Scots and Trenton Italians. Gazonas and Myernick played for a tavern team, Trenton Extension, owned by Frank Rasimowicz, Murphy's grandfather. The NCAA didn't have the restrictions on out-of-season play it has now, and Myernick and Gazonas would drive down from Oneonta to New Jersey each weekend in Myernick's VW Bug for New Jersey State Cup and U.S. Amateur Cup games. In 1976, the 'Ex" reached the U.S. Amateur Cup final before losing to Bavarian Blue Ribbon, 3-1, in Milwaukee.
Before that, Gazonas played for Hamilton Post 313, a local American Legion team. Its big trip of the year was to the Robbie Tournament in Ontario. There was no youth national team program or ODP, but Schellscheidt would take an all-star team of Jersey boys to Germany in the summer. In 1973, he played for the NASL champion Philadelphia Atoms but missed the semifinal win over the Toronto Metros in order to take his kids on their planned trip to Germany.
Gazonas' one shot at a national team came in 1977 when he was invited to a U.S. Olympic team camp, the first gathering of athletes at the new USOC training center opened in Squaw Valley, California, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. He saw it as a chance to get exposure with NASL teams scouting players at the camp.
But there was one hitch: players had to pay their own way to get to Lake Tahoe. Players who made the team would be reimbursed their transportation costs. Gazonas declined the invite, figuring he'd take his chances on impressing pro teams during his senior year at Hartwick.
Hartwick won its first national championship in 1977, and Gazonas was taken with the third pick in the 1978 NASL Draft. He went on to play six seasons in the NASL and MISL.
Gazonas later went into family business with his brother Andrew, operating Michele Lorie Cheesecakes in Trenton. In retirement, he decided to write "That Little Son of a B*tch."