There is a men’s soccer team that hasn’t missed playing in the Cornhusker State Games in 20 years, but you wouldn’t know that from looking at the tournament brackets.
After all, picking a team name can be part of the fun of competition in the State Games, the amateur sports festival that takes place each summer.
Every year since 1993, Maurizio Gagliolo of Omaha has entered a team in the soccer tournament, and each season it has had a different name.
This year, it will be Fister & Fister FC, a tribute to a teammate who plans to start a law firm and will get a jump-start on some advertising with the team T-shirts.
Last year, Gagliolo’s team won the State Games under the name Rubber Cleat FC. It also won in 2007 as S Panther. Other memorable teams names were David Hasselhoff FC (placing second in 2005) and Englebert Humperdink United in 2008 (didn’t place, but a fun name).
Gagliolo played soccer in the State Games with his club team when he was growing up in Omaha. After graduating from Millard North, Gagliolo became a player/coach and organized a team each season.
The 39-year-old Hewlett Packard employee also plays in a men’s league in Omaha that has seasons in the fall and summer.
Gagliolo has kept fielding a team all these years later because the competition is always strong. Many of the college teams in the area send teams to play in the State Games, including 2010 national champion Hastings, and the older players like to see how they stack up against the youngsters.
“It’s one of those tournaments where I think even if guys aren’t playing in the regular season anymore, they make sure and get a team for State Games, because it’s that special and that much fun,” Gagliolo said.
The tradition of the State Games and the organization behind the tournament is appealing. The matches are played over two days with both competitive and recreation divisions, with a possibility of playing four or five games. The players also like that the top three teams earn medals.
“The guys, even though they’re 30 years old, they still like to get that medal, even if it’s silver or bronze,” Gagliolo said.
There are eight players who have been on the team for at least 10 years — Gagliolo, Rob Perran, Davis Mwangi, Jeremy Willer, Josh Nelson, Matt Severa, Tony Buccheri and Tony Zito. Zito played at Millard North, and was recently named one of the best 11 boys players in the 25 years of NSAA-sponsored soccer.
This year, the youngest player on the team is 22 years old and the oldest is 42. Unlike sports such as football, soccer can be a lifetime sport if you stay in shape, Gagliolo said.
“It’s fun,” he said. “The guys in their 20s sit back and make fun of us that are late 30s and 40s, but we’re still playing.”
Gagliolo is like a general manager for a pro sports team as he builds his team each spring. The team started with players he played soccer with in Omaha, and includes several players who played in college.
Getting the teams ready for the State Games has gotten easier each year, and Gagliolo has more people wanting to be on the team than he can accept.
“In the early years, we were still college guys, and the hardest thing was to get guys to show up to that 8 a.m. game,” he said. “I had guys rolling up that probably didn’t brush the teeth, wild hair and just stepping out on the field and throwing a jersey on. I’ve seen it come from that, and now we’re so organized where my guys are ready to go. We’re a little more mature now. Before, I was always worried who was going to show up.”
After playing in the State Games for so many years, there are plenty of memories. One of the most vivid stories involves teammate Ryan Kruse.
“I remember one game Ryan dribbled the ball from midfield, juked a couple of guys and the last guy literally grabbed him and tore the jersey off Ryan’s back and he still kept running and scored the goal,” Gagliolo said. “The referee let them play on and he scored. I got to tell that story to his kids about six months ago. I told them nobody could stop him.”