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Intramurals: Masticators benefit from 35-year soccer veteran

BY MATTHEW CABEL | MARCH 08, 2012 6:30 AM

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Intramural soccer captain Alex Whitesell needed more depth for his team, the Masticators, so he took to Iowa's intramural website to search for some substitutes.

He found 51-year-old Kevin Johnston, the newly hired associate director of the University of Iowa's Center for Teaching.

"We had a lot of guys on our team who hadn't played in a while, and after a pickup game, we determined we could use a sub or two," Whitesell said. "I went [online] and saw that he had a lot of credentials with coaching, so I thought he'd be a good fit for the team."

Whitesell said other teams weren't expecting to see a staff member playing on his squad.

"It definitely was a surprise for some of our opponents," he said. "They were like, 'Who's that old dude?' "

Johnston has played soccer for 35 years. He played throughout high school and tried to walk on at North Carolina; he didn't make the Tar Heels' roster and instead played for a team sponsored by Budweiser.

Johnston served as an intramural soccer coach at Michigan State before his was hired by the UI in late January. He decided he wanted to continue his soccer career on the field instead of from the sidelines and signed up for indoor soccer on Iowa's intramural website.

"I didn't give a darn who I played with," said Johnston, who doesn't think his teammates knew he was a faculty member when they called. "When the captain called me, he was looking for another body … they didn't know what they got."

Johnston began to take on more of a mentor's role for the team because of the stark age difference between him and his teammates. He said his 35 years of soccer experience allows him to see things on the field his teammates cannot.

Johnston's love of the game was clear from watching him play. He called out directions for his teammates from the sideline and was vocal when the Masticators missed scoring opportunities or crumbled on defense.

"He brought a lot of energy," Whitesell said. "He has a lot of experience playing, so it really helped a lot of the guys that hadn't played before to get a point of view for the game."

The Masticators managed to qualify for the playoffs despite only winning one of two regular-season games, a 3-1 win over the Cream Team. But the team faltered in its postseason appearance, as a 5-0 loss to Gnar Bone ended the season after three games.

"We never figured it out," Johnston said. "But I hope to get those guys again [next year] and get the team to move in ways it's not moving in right now."

Mike Widen, the director for intramural sports at Iowa, said faculty and staff have been able to play intramural sports since the inception of the intramural program.

"There are not a lot, but it's not uncommon or rare," associate intramurals director Tommy Schorer said. "We definitely see them a lot in specialty sports — like golf and racquetball — more than the other sports."

Whitesell said he'll be happy to invite Johnston back if the team returns for soccer next year; Johnston said he plans on creating his own team of staff members to take on the younger competition if the Masticators don't re-form. He would also like to create an over-40 soccer league for the Iowa City area.

"This game is my heart," he said. "When young lads like these ask me to play, I'm going to play."


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