Eighty years ago Sunday — on Oct. 2, 1936 — Mattituck High School tried its hand, well, actually its feet, at a new sport.
The Tuckers’ boys soccer team did not fare well, losing 5-0 to Sag Harbor, but after that humble beginning the sport quickly caught on to create one of the great soccer programs in Suffolk County, if not New York State.
They have won three state championships, 19 county titles and 34 league crowns.
“Every good team had a bedrock of quality players, which is really unbecoming of a small community like us,” said coach Will Hayes, a Mattituck standout in the 1990s who is only the seventh coach in team history.
When the program was instituted in 1936, the goals were simple — give students an opportunity to compete against other high schools.
During the depths of the Great Depression, an energetic 23-year-old graduate of Ithaca College, Robert Muir, was hired as athletic director, basketball and soccer coach. Muir established a standard of excellence.
One of the few schools to have a soccer team, the Tuckers had a rather modest schedule in 1936. The first game was followed with an away match at Bellport Oct. 8, a home encounter against Central Islip Oct. 16, another home contest vs. Eastport Oct. 23 and a confrontation at Center Moriches Oct. 30.
“Mattituck High is going in for a new outdoor sport, soccer, this season,” the Mattituck column in The Watchman newspaper said. “It’s the first time this game has been tried at the local school, but the boys are taking to it with a will and may eventually have a good team.”
Little did anyone know it would be more than good.
“A squad of 25 is being instructed by the popular coach ‘Bob’ Muir,” the paper said.
Which was impressive, because there were only 61 boys attending classes.
Using players with little or no background in the game and playing against schools that had been performing for years, Mattituck took its first steps against Sag Harbor, which gave the novices a lesson about the game.
“When coach Muir started practice, he had a group of boys who hadn’t even seen a game played, let alone playing one themselves,” the 1937 yearbook, Reflector, said. “But the boys worked hard and in a short time learned the main principles of the game.”
The second result was more encouraging, though the Tuckers allowed an equalizing goal in the second period (four quarters were played in those days) in a 1-1 draw with Bellport.
Media coverage was sparse and inconsistent. But considering the sport’s lack of popularity for decades, it was surprising that the team got as much press as it did.
“The boys, in their first try at this game, are doing well,” the Mattituck column in The Watchman said, “and hope to win their next game.”
“The boys deserve a lot of credit for the skill they showed in their last game,” another piece said.
The Tuckers recorded their first victory, 4-1, over Central Islip. No details were known about the goal scorers, though Edward Donheffner captained the side. “The sport … is taking hold here, and increasing crowds are noticed at each home appearance,” The Watchman reported.
The team, which finished that inaugural year at 2-2-1, has never suffered a losing season.
It didn’t take long for Mattituck to dominate, winning the 1937 county title, defeating a team that was to become its archrival, Center Moriches, 1-0, in the final.
Muir went on to create a juggernaut. By the time he retired in 1975 after a 39-year career, Muir had earned a county-record 509 victories against 52 losses and 33 draws. The Mattituck athletic fields are named after him.
Through Monday, the Tuckers have recorded a county-record 984 victories, followed by Center Moriches (780). Mattituck’s all-time record is 984-181-69. The Tuckers have reached the playoffs 32 consecutive times since 1984.
“It’s really an honor to be the coach of a program this old, a team that has been that successful as we have been,” Hayes said. “Since I’ve been involved in the program the mid-90s, it’s a very humbling experience. I’ve seen the program, the town and the school change so much over the years that it’s really kind of a window into the soul of what Mattituck really is, what we’re about, where we’ve been and where we are going.”
This year’s Tuckers include players from Guatemala, El Salvador, Russia, Poland and England.
“I have a whole hodgepodge of players that are from other places but who have made their homes here in Mattituck,” Hayes said. “It’s kind of indicative of where we were … 80 years ago. It was a bunch of kids from a rural town and it was that for a very long time. But the town has grown up around that background and its become something different in the last 25 years, a host of different players, different backgrounds, a very good complexion of what life is on the North Fork now.”
Top photo: Mattituck’s athletic fields are named after Robert Muir, who started the school’s soccer program in 1936. (Credit: Bob Liepa)