By Michael Lewis
There are pioneers and there are pioneers.
Kim Wyant today is making history as she is believed to be the first woman to coach a men’s team into an NCAA tournament as the Garden City, N.Y. resident will guide New York University against Haverford College in a Division III opening-round match Saturday night.
Some 73 years ago on Nov. 12, 1945, Lydia Lindgren made some history of her own as she directed the Bridgehampton High School boys soccer team to the Long Island title.
Tuesday will mark the 73rd anniversary of that game and achievement.
Lindgren received her opportunity because of a shortage of men. With many young American men off to war in Europe and the Pacific, women took up the slack – in factories, at desk jobs, in schools, and in coaching as well in some cases.
Born on October 17 1921, Lindgren attended Baldwin high school on Long Island. She never played any varsity sports, although swam in a water show at Jones Beach for seven years “by doing fancy diving and by being featured in elaborate aquatic shows,” the Bridgehampton News reported.
She attended Ball State Teachers College in Indiana, and graduated from NYU as a physical education major.
With a shortage of men, Bridgehampton high school, need someone to teach physical education. The school offered Lindgren a job, and she accepted, becoming coach of the soccer, basketball and baseball teams.
The Bridgehampton News reported Lindgren’s hiring in its Sept. 13, 1943 edition:
“The most surprising innovation for the coming year will be the coaching and handling of the physical education courses by a girl. This is the first time a woman has coached at Bridgehampton and is being anxiously looked forward to by the girls.”
This was three decades prior to Title XI.
Lindgren was only 21 at the time. However, at the time, it was culturally and politically correct to call women girls. Likewise for soldiers, who were called boys.
Different times, different culture, different customs.
Lindgren realized her coaching career would be limited. “I only took up coaching as a war measure,” she said at the time. “I shall give it up as soon as I can.”
During her short tenure, Lindgren directed the Bridgehampton baseball team to a second-place finish in Suffolk County and the basketball team to a similar spot in the Eastern Suffolk League.
In 1945, the Bridgies and Lindgren made history with a 14-player soccer team.
What made the accomplishment even more remarkable was that Bridgehampton had only 20 boys from the ninth through 12th grades, so the pickings were slim. Still, the team went 7-1-1 in the Eastern Suffolk League.
“We played together all through high school,” center forward Jake Early told Newsday years ago. “We played together during recess, stuff like that.”
Forward Vernon Mack, a vital cog, said the players were hesitant in accepting Lindgren at first. By the end of the season, Lindgren had earned the players’ respect with her knowledge and aggression.
“She’d get into arguments [with officials],” Mack was quoted by Newsday.
“She was very good,” right-back Al Musnicki said. “She was very good. She knew her business about playing ball.”
Lindgren said she never had a problem directing boys’ sports teams.
“After all, we take the same courses as the men students at school,” she told the New York Herald Tribune in 1946. “We get all the theory of coaching and the rest is up to our common sense. Also, we have to get the material. And I have plenty of material among the potato farmers’ sons out there. The boys I had were big and strong and could run all day.”
With all due respect to American soccer seven decades ago, it was not nearly as sophisticated or respected as today’s game. Children were not playing it by the millions, and there was no true national professional soccer league from which to learn. So an athletic team could run another side into the ground.
Lindgren managed to get the most out of her team. “Her sex has proved no handicap, as the Bridgehampton record attests,” Newsday reported in one story.
On Oct. 12, 1945, Bridgehampton defeated Center Moriches 5-1 for the right to meet the Western Division winner, Bay Shore High, for the county title.
Three days later, the Bridgies suffered their lone setback, dropping a 3-2 decision to Mattituck, but the school already had booked a spot in the Suffolk County championship game.
On Nov. 2, Bridgehampton recorded a 1-0 triumph over Bay Shore 1-0 for the county title as Mack converted a feed from Pete Huser before a paid crowd of 300 at Islip H.S. Mack’s celebration was muted because he fell to the ground, colliding with an opposing player as he scored the game-winner. Goalkeeper Joe Turner, who came back from serious injuries suffered in a car accident, was superb, registering the shutout.
“I’m well pleased with my boys,” Lindgren told Newsday. “They played a fine game. It was such a clean game. Why, we have had to battle our way through a maze of rough games down East to come this far.”
The Bridgies took on Sea Cliff high school for the first Long Island championship at Islip Nov. 12, 1945, which turned out to be Armistice Day (now Veteran’s Day).
It was a classic confrontation between superior defensive and offensive teams.
The Bridgies, led by Early’s county-best 11 goals, had allowed only seven goals. They also tallied 29 times
The Cliffmen were a superb side, striking for 39 goals behind Dick Shur (11 goals) and Bob Wiez (10). They entered the confrontation with 15-game winning streak over two years, coming off a 2-1 win over Lafayette High. They were backstopped by goalkeeper Carl Braun, who would grow to 6-5 and who went on to star for the New York Knicks in the NBA.
Mack provided the scoring heroics again at 2:28 of the 10th period. Early and Richard Sayre helped set up the goal. This time, he did not collide with an opposing player, but was mobbed by many in the paid crowd of 340.
Mack described the goal in Newsday years later. “I remember getting it from the left wing, who passed to the center of the field,” he said. “Jake Early stopped it. He set it up. I was coming a long behind it. As a matter of fact, I yelled at him and made him get out of the way. I felt I had the better chance of getting it in.”
As for those extra-time periods, don’t fret; the players weren’t run into the ground. High school soccer games in those days lasted 40 minutes in regulation; generally four 10-minute quarters. Playoff matches usually were followed by five-minute periods, although they could vary in length. According to reported accounts, the match lasted 62:38, still short of today’s 80-minute high school matches.
Lindgren never coached another boys’ soccer game. The war was over and men were returning to their jobs. Lindgren resigned her position in early March 1946 and married Sergeant Norman Ullrich of Forest Hills, a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division, on March 16.
“Coaching men’s sports is a man’s job and there are plenty of men around now,” Lindgren told the Herald Tribune.
Not much is known about Lindgren after she left Bridgehampton. She went on to teach at Baldwin junior high school in her hometown. She died in Vero Beach, Florida in 2002 at the age of 80. Norman died in 1973 at the age of 51. It was not known whether the couple had children.
Regardless, Lydia Lindgren left her mark on soccer history, something that Kim Wyant is continuing today.