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Werner Fricker Builder Award
Recipient

Burton Haimes

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Since 2002, U.S. Soccer’s Werner Fricker Builder Award has honored an individual or group who

established a lasting legacy in the sport.

 

 

The award is particularly meaningful to this year’s recipient. During his half-century in soccer, Burton Haimes worked directly with Werner Fricker, the former U.S. Soccer Federation president and National Soccer Hall of Fame member.

Haimes’ credentials are as impressive as Fricker’s. A former president and chair of the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), Haimes spent 22 years as a U.S. Soccer board member. On the national governing body, he was an advocate for the youth game; with AYSO, he helped pioneer an all-inclusive, inexpensive model

that still serves as many children’s first introduction to soccer.

 

Unlike many AYSO parents (particularly those in the early years), Haimes was familiar with the game. He played (“not well,” he clarifies) at Horace Mann School in New York City, then “a little bit” at Yale University.

In 1975 — 10 years after graduating from college — he took his oldest child to an AYSO event in the New York suburb of Chappaqua. The two high school students in charge soon lost interest. Haimes took over.

Nearly 50 years later, his interest has never waned.

 

He progressed from the Regional commissioner in charge of 11 towns, to Area Director, Section III Director for the eastern half of the United States, then 20 years on AYSO’s National Board as President and Chair. He helped grow the base and expanded AYSO’s reach to countries like Trinidad.

As board chair, he attended the annual general meetings of the US Soccer Federation. His role as an outside observer rankled him. Why, he wondered, did AYSO — which enrolled hundreds of thousands of youngsters, along with an enormous corps of parent volunteers — not have a seat at soccer’s head table?

Haimes — whose full-time job was as a high-level corporate attorney

— told Fricker, “We don’t want litigation. But we want in.”

He got in.

Once on the board, Haimes did not represent only AYSO. He served on the committee that chose MLS as the Division I Professional League and helped create the current voting structure that gives athletes and the youth division significant voting rights.

It was not easy. There was resistance to changing old ways. But, Haimes says, “I think with the younger leadership (at U.S. Soccer) today, they’ve come around. There’s a feeling they’re all in for kids.” Organizations like U.S. Club Soccer, and advocates for athletes with disabilities, now have voices at U.S. Soccer too.

But AYSO still holds a special place in Haimes’ heart. He worried during COVID when programs were suspended. Now participation numbers have come back, and the organization continues to serve youngsters nationwide.

“Our philosophy was right,” he says. “It has always focused on children.

Everyone plays. We have open registration, and no travel teams.”

 

Landon Donovan and Alex Morgan are among the multitudes of players

who started their soccer in AYSO, which launched in 1964.

Some players go on to “bigger things.” Others do not.

Whichever path they choose, Haimes hopes they develop an appreciation for soccer through AYSO.

 

 

Parents remain the backbone of the organization, as volunteers. Yet Haimes watches with concern as some believe “their children are their reincarnation, and not worthwhile unless they are champions.”

Winning is important, he admits. “But it’s also important to keep perspective.”

 

 

Through programs like Kids Zone, AYSO encourages soccer fields to be “safe, friendly, happy places” where boys and girls can play without fear of judgment.

Nor is AYSO immune to youth soccer’s trend toward commercialization. “Coaches convince parents that their kids can be champions — and if you pay us, we’ll make sure they are,” Haimes says. “Kids have become profit centers.”

He would like all youth soccer organizations to work together, to guarantee a place for every player without charging “exorbitant sums.” But, he acknowledges, in today’s youth soccer environment that’s a tough goal.

“AYSO is not for everyone,” he notes. “But MLS wants to professionalize everything. And people sometimes feel their own turf is getting threatened.”
 

 

AYSO continues to play an important role, Haimes says. He hopes soccer’s leaders acknowledge that role.

He will continue to advocate for the organization he’s dedicated his professional life to. (While still, at age 80, continuing to practice law as well.)
 

 

Meanwhile, he reflects on his latest honor.

Haimes is “flattered” to win the Werner Fricker Builder Award. “After all these years, all those sparring matches, it’s nice to be recognized,” he says.

It was particularly nice to hear praise from former U.S. Soccer luminaries like Alan Rothenberg, Sunil Gulati and Hank Steinbrecher.

“It’s a wonderful feeling,” Haimes says. “But I still have a lot more to do.”

Written by:  Dan Woog

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