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This article by Nicole Plett was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 23, 1999.
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For Soccer Kids — and Moms
Former Notre Dame High School soccer and track star
Dave Ungrady makes his authorial debut with, "Unlucky: A Season
of Struggle in Minor League Professional Soccer," based on the
1998 inaugural season of the Northern Virginia Royals, a D3 team of
the USISL, based in Fairfax. His book paints a harsh,
portrait of the realities of American athletic competition beyond
the glitter and glory of the big leagues.
Ungrady, who lives in Alexandria, Virginia, returns to his home turf
to talk about and sign "Unlucky," published by Sport
International (208 pages; $14.95), at Borders Books in Nassau Park
on Wednesday, June 23, at 8 p.m.
Ungrady credits John Wagner, who coached his Notre Dame High School
varsity soccer team to state titles in 1974 and ’75, as "by far
the best motivational coach in my life." He also credits his high
school track coaches, Gary Dambro and Dave Milinowicz, with lessons
in the work ethic. A portion of the book’s sales will benefit Notre
Dame’s Joe Wreblowski Memorial fund for a new school track.
Ungrady’s father, Emery Ungrady, is a former semi-pro baseball player
and retired dentist. He and his wife, Eva, have four sons. Emery Jr.
works for the Democratic party in the Trenton statehouse (but claims
no close relation to John Ungrady, the tax revolt leader). Tom, is
a dentist; and brother Paul just moved from Hopewell to take a job
with Merrill-Lynch in Japan.
"I was a frustrated jock whose soccer and track and field careers
in college were hampered by injury. I felt I never reached my
in either sport," says Dave Ungrady, who attended University of
Maryland on a track scholarship and made the soccer team his freshman
year. After he strained an achilles tendon during pre-season soccer
training, his track coach barred him from further soccer. He
made captain of the Maryland track team, where he was an
Shut out of college soccer competition, Ungrady won his own type of
"nerd’s revenge" by progressing straight into a career in
sportswriting. His first job out of college, in the early 1980s, was
as a news aide in the Washington Post sports department.
He is now vice president of Sports Publishing International, a
of magazines for the U.S. Youth Soccer Association and the U.S. Soccer
Federation, as well as newspapers for three state associations. His
freelance writing appears in Sport Magazine, the Washington Post,
Wall Street Journal, and Soccer Magazine. As a broadcaster, he has
done radio play-by-play for DC United, and on soccer broadcasts on
Fox Sports Net and College Soccer Weekly.
Ungrady was 20 years out of college and approaching 40, yet still
lusting for the grit and grapple of competition, when he decided to
not only chronicle the Royals’ first season but train with the team
and compete for a spot on the professionals’ roster.
As he writes in his introduction: "Why stop a just writing? Why
not train with the Royals? Why not see if I could get in a game? After
a lifetime of dreaming, this was my chance to finally, if fleetingly,
become a professional athlete!"
Ungrady makes no secret of the fact that his book was inspired by
George Plimpton’s "Paper Lion," whose first-person account
of his attempt to play as a quarterback with the Detroit Lions was
a bestseller in the mid-’60s. Another writer’s model was the
reporting on high-profile sports of John Feinstein. "Close access
and time commitment were important to understanding the motives of
the players," explains Ungrady. "When you train with a team,
you become part of the team. It’s the best way to fully understand
what the players feel and how they play the game."
"I have little sympathy for professional athletes who complain
about coaching and management decisions and who have trouble making
ends meet on millions of dollars a year in salaries," writes
He notes that the average salary for an NBA player is $40,000 a week;
at $70,000, the average annual salary for a MLS soccer player is less
than two weeks at the NBA pay scale. The team he profiles, the
Royals, paid its players nothing — even the coach was not assured
a salary. In general in D3 soccer, the lowest tier in U.S.
soccer, the most a player can hope for is about $10,000 a season.
Did Dave make the team and play for free? Is second-string
soccer a reasonable choice for the aspiring offspring of America’s
soccer moms? Just ask Dave.
— Nicole Plett
Free. Wednesday, June 23, 8 p.m.
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