All in the family

For Northeast soccer, two Feldman’s are better than one

Like fath­er, like son: Sam Feld­man (left) won a Pub­lic League soc­cer cham­pi­on­ship with North­east High School in 2012, his fi­nal sea­son be­fore re­tire­ment. Now, he’s passed the bat­on to son Kraig. ED MOR­RONE / TIMES PHOTO

Like any­one re­cently re­tired from a ca­reer they spent dec­ades in, Sam Feld­man found him­self look­ing for something to do. When he couldn’t come up with any­thing sub­stan­tial, the former boys soc­cer coach at North­east High School reached for the fa­mil­i­ar.

With his son, Kraig, now in the po­s­i­tion his dad oc­cu­pied for 10 years, go­ing back to Cottman and Al­gon seemed like a great idea. Kraig is off to a 6-0 start in his first sea­son as the Vik­ings head coach with his fath­er by his side as an un­of­fi­cial co-coach, and the un­likely com­bin­a­tion has helped ease dif­fer­ent trans­itions for both Feld­man men.

Plus, they both bring their own strengths to the job.

“A lot of it is co-coach­ing, I’d say,” Kraig Feld­man said. “We both have a whistle at prac­tice, but on game day, I make the calls and the subs … he likes to do the yelling, be­cause he al­ways says he’d rather get thrown out of a game than me.”

“Well, I do have the gym voice,” Sam re­spon­ded with a hearty laugh. “He’s just a teach­er.”

Let’s re­wind.

Last fall, Sam Feld­man, a phys­ic­al edu­ca­tion teach­er at North­east since 1997 and the soc­cer and base­ball head coach since the 2002-03 school year, went in­to the year know­ing he would re­tire as an edu­cat­or and pre­sum­ably, a coach. The Vik­ings re­war­ded his swan song with a mem­or­able and in­spired run to a Pub­lic League cham­pi­on­ship, his second at the school, and Sam was at peace with his de­cision.

Mean­while, Kraig had been the soc­cer coach and ath­let­ic dir­ect­or at Charles Car­roll High School in Port Rich­mond, as well as a bio­logy teach­er. When the school closed earli­er this year, he made ex­tra ef­forts to try to gain a po­s­i­tion at North­east, something he had been try­ing for some time. As it turned out, North­east had both an open­ing for a bio­logy teach­er and a head soc­cer coach. He ap­plied, and didn’t find out he had been hired un­til late Ju­ly.

At that time, the state of the reign­ing Pub­lic League champs was in flux. Sam Feld­man had taken the Vik­ings to three straight cham­pi­on­ship rounds, and the play­ers cared for him deeply, so much so that two of the team’s top re­turn­ing play­ers, George Chavez and Tyler Gorm­ley, wer­en’t ex­pec­ted to come back and play for a new coach.

“The way he talked to those kids, I nev­er had a coach talk to me like that,” Kraig said of his fath­er. “He would tell them he loved them, and I think it was a fath­erly thing for a lot of them. At the end, you just felt that con­nec­tion he had with them. I knew how im­port­ant it was to him and how much he cared for those kids. It was a sea­son of des­tiny, a cul­min­a­tion of his en­tire coach­ing ca­reer.”

When Kraig got the job at North­east, he went to his fath­er to see about con­tact­ing re­turn­ing play­ers and talk­ing them in­to com­ing back. When they found out that Sam would still be in­volved in some ca­pa­city, the turnout was no sur­prise.

“I called the kids and told them to round up every­one they could,” Sam said. “Mi­ra­cu­lously, the first day of prac­tice, 20 kids showed up with phys­ic­als. I got us star­ted and by the end of it, we were mov­ing.”

Ini­tially, there was some con­fu­sion from the play­ers about who was the highest au­thor­ity fig­ure on the team, but ac­cord­ing to both Sam and Kraig, that was straightened out quickly. Sam is not there every day, so it’s clear to the kids now who the head coach is. When Sam is there, he gets to work on the tech­nic­al as­pects of their games (his biggest coach­ing strength, ac­cord­ing to Kraig), as well as keep­ing his old coach­ing philo­sophy and sys­tem in place, which the kids are already com­fort­able with. Sam is around usu­ally three or four days a week, which, as he said, “gives me something to do for a couple hours.”

If there were any re­main­ing ques­tions about how the trans­ition has gone for Sam, Kraig and the 2013 Vik­ings, look no fur­ther than the team’s sched­ule to date. In four of North­east’s wins, the Vik­ings outscored their op­pon­ents by a com­pos­ite score of 29-1. Chavez and Gorm­ley, “the two people that make this horse run,” ac­cord­ing to Sam Feld­man, have picked up right where they left off in 2012. A sopho­more, Dean Hernan­dez-Car­rera, leads the team in scor­ing with a goal in all six games, while ju­ni­or cap­tain Mario Kur­eta and seni­or Er­ick Cer­rada have stepped up as well.

And while Kraig Feld­man jok­ingly shushed a re­port­er when the “c-word” was brought up, an­oth­er cham­pi­on­ship run could be in store for the Vik­ings, even with a deep­er Pub­lic League in 2013.

“One of the first things I no­ticed about them is that they aren’t cocky or over­con­fid­ent,” Kraig said. “Even though they’ve won con­sist­ently, you don’t hear them go­ing around call­ing them­selves cham­pi­ons or say­ing they’re the best. They aren’t sat­is­fied, and they want to play bet­ter and im­prove no mat­ter what the score is. That’s been con­ta­gious.”

As far as the coach­ing re­la­tion­ship between fath­er and son, there hasn’t been any step­ping on each oth­er’s toes. As Kraig said, “Every­body un­der­stands that I’m the head coach,” and the com­bin­a­tion works be­cause the two can play off each oth­er’s strengths.

Sam coached Kraig from the time he was 4 up un­til he began play­ing soc­cer at Cent­ral Bucks East High School. Even so, Sam al­ways helped Kraig work on his game at home in the back­yard, and he’s still teach­ing his son things about soc­cer to this day.

“He was al­ways in­volved in mak­ing me a bet­ter soc­cer play­er,” Kraig said. “That was al­ways his first sport, his first love, and that re­flec­ted back onto me.”

Above all, both men are en­joy­ing the un­ex­pec­ted ex­per­i­ence of coach­ing along­side one an­oth­er. For Sam, it makes him feel like he’s still part of the team; and even though he’s re­tired, ac­cord­ing to him, he gets to ex­per­i­ence all of the good things and not have to deal with the stress that comes from be­ing both a teach­er and a head coach.

“I’m ac­tu­ally hav­ing more fun now, be­cause it’s only the good stuff,” he said. “It’s all good, all pos­it­ive. The toughest part for me was that first day of classes when I woke up at 4:30 and had nowhere to go. It was killing me. Now I get to deal with kids who want to see me all the time, which makes a dif­fer­ence, and I don’t have to take any re­spons­ib­il­ity for it be­cause there’s only a few people who even know I’m here.”

As for Kraig, get­ting to spend more time with a man he’s been close with all his life has been all gravy.

“It’s su­per cool,” he said. “We have a great re­la­tion­ship as fath­er and son. Between me, my dad and my broth­er, we al­ways did stuff to­geth­er any­way and al­ways got along real well. We’re prob­ably a lot closer than the av­er­age fam­ily. We en­joy just be­ing around each oth­er and hanging out.

“In his re­tire­ment, it’s great that he can still be in­volved, and he loves it. I get his tu­tel­age, and he can help me un­der­stand what I need to do. He’s still teach­ing me. It’s been a won­der­ful ex­per­i­ence. He’s not here every day, but I love it when he is. It makes coach­ing a lot more fun to be able to share this, to­geth­er.” ••

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