LA Tribute to Jim Kempers
A Tribute to Jim Kempers
Dear Editor, I would like to add my thoughts to the memory of Jim Kempers, who recently died. Jim was a soccer fanatic. He played, coached, and watched the game with knowledge, skill, and delight. He was a regular spectator at Montgomery High games and faithfully viewed English Premier League games on TV (Tuesday mornings). I was lucky enough to observe, abet, and share the fun as Jim enjoyed the Kenwood soccer life. I would like to share two events starring Jim that add a little color to his story.
In the late 70s, the Kenwood Youth Soccer Club needed an additional field beyond the small field at Kenwood School. We regularly turned out 13 teams from under eight to under sixteen, boys and girls. That’s a lot of games every Saturday morning, even on a home and away basis. As a solution, Joe Rododa, the County Recreation Department director, encouraged the club to build a new, full-size regulation “pitch” on the old baseball field on Shaw Avenue, which the local lads were using as a dirt bike track. The problem was the county had no budget for this venture; not the initial construction nor the ongoing care and maintenance required by a lawn 150 yards long by 75 yards wide. So we spent a couple of years selling hot dogs at our games, held fundraisers at Morton’s, and culminated our fundraising with a big bash on the Kunde Ranch with a whole roasted pig and a piano player on top of the hill! After raising more than $25,000, we were set to proceed. But now a new problem arose: The field had a resident with tenant rights. It seems (and historians may reveal more detail) that a longtime Kenwoodian and neighbor to the field had rented out the old baseball clubhouse to a young family with children for the princely sum of $50 a month. After checking with the county, it became clear that the family had rights of occupancy even if the business relationship was a bit shaky. Joe Rodota advised us to tread carefully. The sheriff ’s office said, “None of our business, you are on your own and don’t break the law.” We made our intentions known with sufficient time to allow the young family to vacate with grace. But another issue arose: The enterprising neighbor who was now $50 a month poorer made it clear he was going to go down fighting and intended to continue renting the clubhouse. Jim Kempers hatched a plan to “finesse” that problem. On the Saturday morning that Don Dowd, heavy equipment operator, and Kenwoodian “Hap” Miller started up his huge, bladed machine and prepared to start grading the field, there was a secretive discussion between Jim and Hap. I was excluded. On the second lap around the field, and at just the precise moment that Hap passed the clubhouse, the blade came up and clipped the corner of the roof. Alas, the clubhouse folded into an amazingly tidy pile of boards and roof shingles. We applauded politely, the sheriff ’s car drove off, and Jim Kempers raced after Hap’s machine, climbed to the cab and presented him with a bottle of whiskey.
Let’s move on a few years to Jim’s next soccer adventure. Many of you will recall that Jim coached the Kenwood Ladies soccer team. And a very fine team it was too. But the husbands and boyfriends got restless. One day Sid Behler came to me and asked if I would coach and manage a newly formed over 30 men’s team. “Sure,” I said. “How difficult can that be after coaching those U12 hooligans?” The men’s team was nothing if not earnest and dedicated. They practiced regularly and showed up for all the Sunday morning games, mostly held at Shaw Park. We had a core of about five competent players, a couple of stars (Danny Rodriguez and Jim), two absolute passengers and three or four hotheads whose machismo sometimes hindered whatever skill they possessed (and also brought them to the attention of the referee). Jim played mostly in goal and was a safe pair of hands; Danny was a tireless and irresistible force in the middle at center forward. But then there was a talent dropoff and goals were hard to get. So along came an exciting but temporary solution. A friend of my sister from England, Brian Perry, had recently married and wanted to bring his bride to California for an extended vacation using my Kenwood home as a base. He played for a semi-professional side in Somerset and I thought he might fit in. With agreement from the team, I registered him with the league for the upcoming season and made plans to use his talent and experience. In defense of my shameless actions, I must say that I intended to use Brian as a player/coach to raise the level of skill and soccer knowledge across the whole team. Jim immediately bonded with Brian and conspired with him on tactics that exploited the many weaknesses of the opposing teams. One set piece that they practiced and executed flawlessly and frequently was the corner kick into the box from the right corner. Jim had a very strong and accurate left foot that curled the ball, in the air, towards the goal. Most defenders had left-side weakness and poor sense of positioning. Brian was brilliant in the air when moving rapidly into the box and deadly with his headers. Goal!
You should have seen the grin on Jim’s face when he Letters – continued from page 8
would run to hug Brian.
Jim Kempers played high school ball at Galileo and also for his US Army team, but I’d like to believe that those special times at Shaw Park with his Kenwood friends and his new “mate” from Bristol were highlights in Jim’s soccer career. Jim, over a glass of gin, agreed with the comments made famous by Liverpool’s iconic manager, Bill Shankly, when he said, “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you that it is much, much more important than that.”