Northeast’s Feldman has one more shot at title

North­east boys soc­cer coach Sam Feld­man, who will re­tire at the end of the school year, is hop­ing to win his second soc­cer title at the school. TIMES FILE PHOTO


Soon enough, Sam Feld­man’s time at North­east High School will come to an end.

Hav­ing made his de­cision to re­tire at the end of the school year, Feld­man, who has been at North­east since 1997 and the boys soc­cer and base­ball coach since the 2002-03 sea­sons, is pre­pared to walk away after dec­ades of a ful­filling ca­reer as an edu­cat­or.

But what will he do with the ex­tra down time?

“This past week­end, I went to see my two grand­daugh­ters, ages 2 and 4,” Feld­man said on Fri­day af­ter­noon while his soc­cer team pre­pared for the Pub­lic League quarterfi­nals. “We played a lot of Si­mon Says, Sev­en Up, Duck-Duck-Goose and Huckle Buckle Bean­stalk. My son and my daugh­ter-in-law love watch­ing me be a gym teach­er with them. That’s what I do, and who I am.”

While Feld­man’s wife has ques­tioned his de­cision to re­tire, (“She thinks it’s a mis­take, me leav­ing,” he said. “She doesn’t think I’ll be good on my own.”) he’s at peace with the choice. With his spring base­ball team not ex­pec­ted to be a cham­pi­on­ship con­tender, Feld­man’s last shot at glory may rest with his Vik­ing soc­cer team, a group that lost just one game all sea­son. George Wash­ing­ton (3-3 tie) and Frank­lin Towne Charter (3-0 loss) are the only teams North­east failed to beat this year, and those teams are right there at the top of the stand­ings chas­ing the same goal.

Feld­man, whose lone cham­pi­on­ship at the school came with the 2007 soc­cer team, has guided the Vik­ings to two straight title games, both heart­break­ing losses at the hands of Wash­ing­ton and Bartram. He doesn’t want his­tory to re­peat it­self.

“I don’t want to win it for me,” he said. “I want to win it for them. Last year, los­ing in the cham­pi­on­ship to Wash­ing­ton, watch­ing them cry in the lock­er room. They didn’t want to leave at the end of the night. I can still re­mem­ber it…”

Feld­man’s voice trailed off, his voice crack­ing with emo­tion. He is very much a man at the end of his coach­ing road, and he re­cog­nizes that. But even with re­tire­ment loom­ing, he knows he’ll al­ways be a part of the North­east fam­ily, simply be­cause he won’t be able to stay away.

“I can’t just walk away,” he said. “Ninety per­cent of the guys from my cham­pi­on­ship team are my friends on Face­book. I try to keep up the best I can, see­ing them get mar­ried and have kids. It’s good stuff.”

And if Feld­man wants to win one fi­nal cham­pi­on­ship for his play­ers, then the feel­ing is cer­tainly mu­tu­al.

“It’s his last year, and he de­serves it,” seni­or cap­tain Chris Black said. “We brought him there two years in a row, and now it’s our last shot. We want to fin­ish it for him.”

“We want to do this for him,” ad­ded ju­ni­or cap­tain George Chavez. “In the cham­pi­on­ship losses, he felt the pain in our eyes. Those tears mean a lot to him. We want the tears, but happy ones this time. He’s not selfish. He wants this for us.”

Feld­man is es­pe­cially fond of this par­tic­u­lar group, one that has nev­er griped about go­ing to work each and every day.

“Un­like some groups in the past, they’re very bright and fun to be around,” he said with a deep sigh in his voice. “They love to work. They get along. It makes my job more en­joy­able to see that. Win­ning a cham­pi­on­ship, if that could make all the dif­fer­ence in the world to even one of them, it’d be worth it.”

Over the course of a long, re­flect­ive con­ver­sa­tion, Feld­man dis­cussed some of his fond­est soc­cer memor­ies as a play­er and a coach. He told the story of win­ning a high school state cham­pi­on­ship in 1971 and how it has stuck with him to this day, more than 40 years later.

“The real­ity is, that one day got me here today in a lot of re­spects,” he said. “I want that for these guys.”

The road cer­tainly won’t be easy. North­east fin­ished with a 9-1-1 re­cord, the same as Wash­ing­ton and Towne. By way of a tie-break­ing coin flip, North­east has to travel to Si­mon Gratz High School for the quarterfi­nals, while Wash­ing­ton and Towne play their first games at North­east as the top two seeds. A win by both North­east and Wash­ing­ton in the quar­ters would set up a re­match of their Oct. 10 game; in that con­test, the Vik­ings spot­ted the Eagles an early 3-0 lead be­fore frantic­ally fight­ing back for a 3-3 tie, high­lighted by two goals from Black. (Ed­it­or’s note: North­east ad­vanced to the Pub­lic League semi­finals on Tues­day night with a 3-1 win over Samuel Fels.)

Feld­man knows any­thing short of a cham­pi­on­ship will be a dis­ap­point­ment to him and his play­ers; that said, the un­selfish coach has en­joyed the pre­cious re­main­ing mo­ments with his team.

“I just had my for­ti­eth high school re­union, and forty-eight of the people I gradu­ated with are dead,” he said. “You see some are tooth­less and un­able to af­ford dent­al care, some got AIDS, some are all-world and very suc­cess­ful busi­nesspeople. You just don’t know…”

Feld­man is a man happy with where his road has led. He hopes the road ends with three more vic­tor­ies, as do his play­ers who have learned so much from their caring coach.

“He’s done a lot for us,” said team lead­ing scorer Andy Jean-Pierre. “It’s my first year on the team, but since day one he’s pushed us and made us work hard to get where we are today. He al­ways makes us laugh. Win­ning and hav­ing fun are what he’s all about.”

“We have our ups and downs like any­one else,” Chavez ad­ded. “He’s been there with us through it all. That’s what makes us a team. We go through it all to­geth­er.”

Black took it one step fur­ther.

“His strongest point has al­ways been to mold us in­to a fam­ily,” he said. “That’s all he cares about. We’re one team … one fam­ily. I’d give any­thing to win this for him. And I know he would, too.” ••

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