The 1967 John F. Kennedy Cup soccer champion Victoria O'Keefes celebrated the 50th anniversary of their title in 2017.
The old Pacific Coast Soccer League (PCSL) was the top level of the sport in the province and the local team was known as Victoria United before the O'Keefes beer sponsorship. The Kennedy Cup, inaugurated by the late U.S. president in 1961 as part of his physical fitness initiative, was contested between the champions of the PCSL and the amateur champions of Washington, Oregon, California and Mexico. It was the only sports Cup named after JFK.
To make it to the tournament was no easy path, yet the O'Keefes won it with aplomb in 1967.
“With the likes of Vancouver Columbus and Firefighters, every week in the Pacific Coast League was tough competition,” recalled Coach Frank Grealy of the process just to get to the Kennedy Cup tournament. The O'Keefes proved to be the pick of the bunch in Canada's Centennnial year as they won 19 of 21 games in the 1966-67 PCSL season. “These were intelligent, smart players. I always believed in attacking soccer, and sometimes I enjoyed so much what I was watching with this group that I forgot I was coaching,” said Grealy.
The PCSL hosted the Kennedy Cup tournament that year at Empire Stadium in Vancouver, so needless to say, Lower Mainland soccer officials were dismayed by the lost marketing opportunities due to having an Island team as the host PCSL-Champion club.
“Oh, Oh, Wrong Team,” read a headline in a Vancouver Sun story on May, 8, 1967, by legendary sports columnist Jim Kearney. He was from Victoria, and no doubt reveled in the Lower Mainland organizers’ discomfort about who the host club turned out to be.
“It just clicked for us that year... it was a true team effort,” said O'Keefes goalkeeper Barry Sadler, who recorded 10 shutouts that season. Victoria beat Los Angeles FC 3-1 in the Kennedy Cup semifinals and then shocked the Mexico representative, which was a national select side, 2-1 in the Cup final before more than 6,000 fans.
B.C. soccer legend Dave Stothard, a member of the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame, credits Grealy’s punishing training schedule and notes that’s why the O'Keefes didn’t fade late in games. “We went at it hard, even in the last 20 minutes,” said Grealy.
The veteran captain, Stothard, had played in Canada’s first-ever World Cup qualifying campaign for Sweden 1958. The 18-year-old rookie, Ike MacKay, would go on to play pro in the NASL and for Canada in World Cup qualifying for Germany 1974 and Argentina 1978. The goalkeeper, Sadler, commanded the crease for a generation of Island soccer teams. Peter Brett was from England and Jim Menzies, Tom Westwater and Ed Carson had come out from Scotland and commuted from jobs in Port Alberni to play.
All in all, this was a true team effort.
SPONSORED BY VANCOUVER ISLAND SOCCER LEAGUE
Upon his return to Canada, Simon joined the Canadian National Training Center while also playing for the UVIC Vikes Soccer Team. It was at this time that Simon was faced with an unknown illness that interrupted his career. Simon was just 21 when, in July of 1986, he received the heart of a 17 year-old boy, who ironically died while playing soccer. The surgery was performed at Papworth Hospital outside of London by renowned surgeons Dr. Mohsin Hakim and Sir Terence English.
Simon then moved to Las Vegas in 1987 determined to return to the field of play. Amazingly, he returned to competitive soccer playing for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, under head coach Barry Barto. During two seasons with the Rebels, he garnered many honors including being named the Student-Athlete of Year for the Conference and being voted USA’s Most Courageous Athlete. After his senior season, Simon was named the Most Valuable Player at the Senior Bowl and was drafted first overall into the Major Indoor Soccer League, just three years after his heart transplant. His professional career included stops in Cleveland, Victoria, Winnipeg and Montreal.
Now one of the longest-living organ transplant recipients in the world and most notable professional athletes of his time, Simon recently published his biography – Heart for the Game - detailing this most unique journey, including his return to Wales to stand on the field with his donor’s father, 25 years after that fateful day when the boy lost his life.
In 2011, he founded The Simon Keith Foundation, an organization dedicated to increasing organ donor awareness and educating transplant recipients. A keynote speaker, Simon uses the proceeds from his engagements to provide athletic training for other transplant recipients who choose to return to an active and healthy lifestyle.
Simon is married to Victoria native, Kelly, and has three children: Sarah, Samantha and Sean. In addition to his philanthropic efforts, and professional soccer career, he is also the Chief Operating Officer of the Nevada Donor Network, the organ procurement organization for the state of Nevada. Simon has been inducted into the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame as well as been honored by speaking at the White House in advocating for improved organ donation systems.
SPONSORED BY SIMON KEITH FOUNDATION