Bearlights

BEARS IN SOCCER
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Bill

Merrell

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Head Coach:

 1983-86 & 1989-91 

Overall Record at Cal:

 61-20-8 

Notable Cal Coaching Moments:

 1983 Quarterfinal Appearance 

 

 1984 Final Four Appearance 

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A
Tribute

The outpouring of sentiment for this tribute to Bill Merrell has been touching.  It gives us the opportunity to be reminded what a wonderful father, husband, mentor,

coach and friend Bill was.  While we will be forever indebted that Bill put the Cal Women’s Soccer program on the map, his 

accomplishments, contributions and the legacy that he leaves behind runs much deeper.  We will forever remember him as the man who made us

believe in ourselves - that we could do anything.  He was the definition of a leader who empowers, lifts up and

and gets the very best out of his people – family, friends, players, co-coaches.   “The back bone of his personality was to get you to strive to be the best you could be” says daughter Rebecca.  “He wanted us to give it our all, be independent, push ourselves and be self-sufficient.”  It is safe to say that Bill made us all not just better soccer players but better people and better friends.   Bill taught us to believe in ourselves and each other.

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This young boy probably did not know that he would become a life force – touching so many. 

If you look closely, you can see the mischievous, fun loving young Bill who would later become such a huge part of the Cal Women’s Soccer program.

A Little History

Before Bill became entrenched in his soccer career (and ours), he began his undergrad at Stanford (no!) then transferred to Northwestern where the love of his life and future wife, Marian, was going to school. Marian and Bill met at San Marino High School where he dated Marian’s best friend,  subsequently he and Marian took a World Affairs class together. She was incredibly impressed by his knowledge of World War II - he was the only one to raise his hand and volunteer to tell the class about it. Some of us will remember that Bill quoted General Patton in some of his motivational speeches.  Marian misses his passion and interest in everything.  “He would tell you facts about just about anything. One time we were watching Jeopardy and the question was about obscure rivers.  He got every one right – and he was not humble about it either!”   “He read a book every night of the week” according to Vickie – generally historical in nature and non-fiction.  “He was incredibly well informed”.

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Bill and Marian attended a high school prom together and the rest, as they say, is history. As with everything he did, Bill was all in. We think that his poems were something, but Bill wrote Marian love letters every day during their freshman year until he could finally join her (transferring from Stanford to Northwestern). They were all two to three pages in length, sharing what was going on, what he did/didn’t approve of (i.e. hazing), how he missed Marian and making plans for what the future might hold for them. A fond memory is when Bill was visiting Marian at chilly Northwestern with no winter clothes or gloves, a student needed help with her car – Bill changed her tire in his bare hands in freezing temperatures. No surprise Bill was very involved at Northwestern, where he became co- chairman of Homecoming and was active with his fraternity, Phi Kappa Sigma. Bill and Marian were married in Pasadena prior to their senior year at Northwestern, then he was off to Stanford Law School. Sharon and Vickie were born during law school with Rebecca a four years later. Despite an incredibly hectic schedule, the couple still made time for fun with friends with a favorite outing being dressing up in the theme of a particular country.

Bill graduated and specialized in airline, real estate, corporate, utility and sports law.  Bill joined his grandfather’s law firm then co-founded his own firm, Dietsch, Gates, Morris and Merrell.  Since Bill was their firm’s best litigator, he did most of their trial work, burning out during the process. “It was hard on him,” Marian observes “but he was simply good at everything he did”. Bill’s heart lay elsewhere. He took great interest in history - a dream was to be a history or political science teacher (his major) where he could touch the lives of others in a meaningful way. Bill’s daughter Vickie – to this day an incredibly talented athlete – played soccer around the neighborhood and of course had Bill’s full support as she jumped into the early days of AYSO.  Bill then began to fall in love with a sport that he never played and began to marry his passion for his daughter’s growth, a cool new sport and his passion for teaching and touching lives. 

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 Bill's Passion For Soccer 

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As Vickie’s soccer career began at age 8 with the AYSO Orchids, Bill’s coaching career started as an assistant coach then no surprise, he became head coach.  Vickie might even say he periodically “usurped power”.  As Vickie recalls, he was all in learning everything about the sport, researching and  becoming immersed.  “At the beginning, he read everything about soccer” according to Marian.  Shockingly (kidding), one of the things that he also had to learn was to be a good loser!  “It was a tough lesson for him” she recalls, with a laugh.

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Vickie excelled and Bill was ready to take things to the next level.  He then partnered with co-coach Warren Stephenson (a former football player also with his own daughter Erin playing) to develop the first girls’ All Star / club team in the South Bay (CA) which would subsequently become the Palos Verdes (PV) Breakers.  It was a special time for coaches, parents and players – the team stayed together for four years, winning multiple tournaments,  four state titles and finally a West Regional title - which was as far as you could advance at the time.  The team learned how to juggle at a (relatively) early age, how to pass unselfishly, how to run off the ball, pretty decent tactics  and oh boy how to do sprints, sit ups and leg lifts!   As American youth coaches went at the time, the Breakers were incredibly lucky to have two coaches who became students of the sport and took their roles so seriously.  They also had high expectations…

In 1980, the coaches arranged for a trip to Europe where the Breakers played in England, Holland and Germany – having the experience of a lifetime. The PV Breakers beat the women’s FSV Frankfurt team, despite the fact that they had 18 year olds playing against 14 olds.  The FSV Frankfurt Club  committed that they would not allow themselves to lose to the Americans again which gave birth to a much more committed women’s league in Germany.   Bill was basically the organizer of the first FIFA affiliated U.S. Girls team to compete in Europe – a pioneer and huge contributor to the growth of his players and the sport.  Mary Harvey (US Women’s National Team and Cal Hall of Fame) commented that when she played in Germany many years later, that they looked back on that moment as the impetus for their program.  Not only did the Breakers players become life-long friends in many cases, but the parents built a community around this novel experience that was the beginning of girls’ soccer in the US.

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 Tributes from Breakers Players 

*Click the arrows or circles below to swipe through

Where would we and the sport be if it were not for the likes of Bill?

Bill and Vickie continued to take things to the next level.  He had impacted so many young girls positively by this time “having such an impact on players on and off the field” according to Vickie, that he went on to coach many of these same young women in high school (Rolling Hills and Palos Verdes High Schools) and ultimately in college and women’s club teams. He built a reputation, and a notable record of success and became a key player in the California soccer community. He was President and co-founder / Director of Am-Sports Corporation (youth soccer camps), an Officer and Board Member of the Pacific Soccer League/CYSA (large at the time with 1,200 players) and a Partner of the L.A Aztecs – a National Soccer League professional men’s team.

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He also was involved in the Olympic Development program as a coach, Head Coach of Team Dynamics, a successful women’s soccer club in Southern California and was involved in the State Select Program.   Hopefully, you have noticed by this time that Bill has moved from high-powered attorney to a driving force in the (women’s) soccer community.

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Bill then went even bigger and threw his name in the hat to coach at Cal – where Vickie and a number of his former players had been playing and attending college.  He coached at Cal during the 1983-1986 seasons then again from 1989-1991.  He took the program from Club status to an NCAA power house, competing in the Final Four in 1984 after advancing to the Quarterfinals in 1983.  Bill’s overall record at Cal was 61-20-8 with a .730 winning percentage over five seasons.

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After Pat Keohane helped establish the program, Bill’s ambitions took it – and many of us – to the next level.   Our experiences included winning seasons, NCAA play offs, epic road trips, educational side trips, irreplaceable life lessons, po-ems, comradery that binds for life and lots and lots of doggies!   While his expectations were high, we managed to have an awful lot of fun along the way.  To this day, who can’t hear “girls, cut the grab ass!” or their last name being hollered out – and you thought “oh sh--!”.

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Jenny Thomas, Cal Women’s Soccer Hall of Fame and former assistant coach, explains just a few of his contributions.  “He was so much to our program and the individuals in it. After we fought for "varsity" status and agreed to it without funding in 1982, Bill found us an Adidas deal so we had some gear. Bill figured out a way to get us to games out of region so we could get into the NCAA tournament after going 19-0 our freshman year and not getting a bid. Bill was a recruiting genius, finding incredible players and somehow enticing them to CAL with no scholarship money for so many years. When we did finally get some scholarship money from the department, Bill gave a little piece to each of the remaining seniors to pay for our tuition for one semester ($600ish). Bill built our program from the ground up and impacted all of us while doing it. 

Bill would let us gossip and decompress in stretching circle at the beginning of practice (no dynamic stretching in the 80s); while acting like he wasn't listening, he learned volumes about us as a team and individuals. I coveted our "recruiting dinners" to plan the visits, always with a few beers at Giovanni's. On road trips, Bill would set up side visits to historical sites to get us out to see the world beyond our hotel. He helped me with my Poly Sci homework on an airplane, painstakingly explaining what a "bureaucracy" was to this dumbfounded sophomore. But most of all, I loved his pre-game po-ems, read to us in a tan safari vest often with a pipe in hand. Bill's po-ems made me feel invincible and always ended in "kick some fucking ass"!  I've "borrowed" enthusiastically from Bill's holistic coaching play book over the years. I'm forever indebted and in awe.”  The author has tried to track down copies of Bill’s poems, but evidently these and Marian’s love letters were thrown out when Bill was close to the end.  He wanted Marian, and us, to move on.   

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Lesle Gallimore was both coached by Bill and became his assistant coach at Cal.  At Bill’s service, Lesle shared that “as my coach, he taught me to care, to compete, to have passion for all that I do.  He taught me the importance of leading by example and not by mere rhetoric. I often wonder what it was about Bill that made us all play so hard for him and each other, not just for ourselves?  It grew out of respect – respect for what he stood for in his life.  A man that accomplished a great deal in many different areas and was never afraid to follow his dreams. He had this incredible knack for making you believe.  To believe that anything was possible.  To believe that life had a lot to offer to all of those willing to go for it.  Mostly, he had a knack for making you believe in yourself.  To always strive for excellence.”

Bill's Wallet Poem

Marine Cano would say of Bill:

 

“He was the most caring, nicest person –so smart, very successful in everything that he did.   He did it his way and he didn’t give a sh—what anybody thought”.  It is no surprise that Bill chose the words of this poem (thank you Rebecca) to live by – he carried it in his wallet every day.  A fitting tribute to Bill is for all of us to pay this forward (and so many of you are)!

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Is anybody happier
Because you passed their way?
Does anyone remember
That you spoke to them today?
The day is almost over,
And its toiling time is through,
Is there anyone that will utter
A kind word about you?
Can you say tonight in parting,
With the day that’s slipping fast,
That you helped a single person
Of the many that you passed?
Is a single heart rejoicing
Over what you did or said?
Does the one whose hopes were fading
Now with courage look ahead?
Did you win the day or lose it?
Was it well or sorely spent?
Did you leave a trail of kindness,
Or a scar of discontent?
As you close your eyes in slumber,
do you think that God will say,
“you have earned one more tomorrow
By the good you did today?”

The Merrell Daughters

Not only did Bill have a huge impact on so many players, he and Marian raised three extraordinary daughters.  Vickie is a Physician’s Assistant specializing in treating patients with rheumatic diseases which includes numerous autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and is well known in her field.  She still runs marathons (fast!) and is an extraordinary surfer, having surfed all over the world.  She has worked on Capitol Hill to advocate for RA patients and research.  Rebecca has her Dad’s zest for adventure as a world traveler to 55 countries and counting.  She works at Allergan in the medical field and has her Masters in International Politics.  She has been involved in initiatives from training lawyers in developing countries in environmental law to winning  grants in places like Thailand and the Ukraine to finance urban environmental infrastructure.  Sharon has had an extraordinary teaching career, just recently retiring from Boise High.   

 

“My teaching career was truly a privilege to be able to work with such incredible young people”, Sharon shares.  She taught AP Language and Composition, AP Capstone Research and Creative Writing.  A student testimonial reflects a legacy continued by Sharon: "Thank you for being an incredible role model of passion, peace, kindness, and intelligence.  Thank you for supporting and encouraging your students' creativity and curiosity with enthusiasm.  I hope to be an English teacher someday.  I want to inspire, support and encourage students just like you did for me.  You taught me how to love language and how to ignite my passion for helping others."

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As Rebecca commented, her dad taught them that “they could become anything that they wanted”, and indeed they have.    According to Marine Cano, one of Bill’s best friends and fellow accomplished soccer coach, “all Bill would ever do was talk about his daughters – he was so proud of them”.  We owe the Merrell women – wife Marian, daughters Sharon, Vicki and Rebecca – a deep debt of gratitude.  It was not always easy that their father gave so much time to his players, sometimes compromising the time spent with family.  Coaching at Cal meant lots of travel and time away from home.  Bill always called Marian from the soccer road trips.  “Those conversations were very heart felt” she recalls.

 

Marian also recalled many an evening where Bill would spend time on the line with a player who needed advice.  Bill actually even listened to an insightful psychiatrist with a talk show - she thinks he was learning how to best support his players in need and “was a student of helping others.”  Many of us leaned on Bill many times for an ear and advice.  “If you had a problem you could dump it on him and he would help,” observed Coach Cano.   Thank you so very much Marian, for sharing Bill with us.  Bill’s younger brother, John Merrell, has contributed to the Cal Women’s program.  He manages the endowment fund which is in Bill’s name and has a lovely thank you note from Alex Morgan when she won the scholarship to Cal.  

Bill lost his battle with cancer in 1995.  Some of his latest, fondest memories according to Marian and Marine Cano, were attending the (Men’s) FIFA World Cup in 1994  watching Italy play Brazil in the Final at the Rose Bowl – where Brazil won on PKs.  There is no question that he would have been even happier had he been able to attend the Women’s FIFA World Cup when the US Women’s National Team beat the Chinese at the Rose Bowl just a short while later in 1999.  That game was the culmination for many of us that women’s soccer had finally made it.  There was not a dry eye in my row when the National Anthem was sung and the Blue Angels flew overhead and it’s hard not to get teary eyed thinking about it today.   Bill would have been there in a minute.  He was incredibly proud of the many women that he coached who went on to “become lifers” according to Marine Cano – those who chose coaching as a career and paid it back to the sport, enabling other girls and women.  This includes the likes of Carin Jennings-Gabarra (US Naval Academy) and Lesle Gallimore (University of Washington 26 years) and now too many others to name.

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Tributes to Bill

*Click the arrows or circles below to swipe through

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From Bill, To Us

So in closing, if Bill Merrell were to read us Cal Women’s Soccer Alumni a po-em today, it might look something like the following. Please remember his voice and inflection when reading, and remember the correct Bill-centric way to pronounce “poy-em” (two distinct syllables)!

 A POEM 

Written & Recited By Trudi Sharpsteen
Click to Listen!
00:00 / 01:20
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Put the program on the map, yes I did
Poured my heart and soul into it
finally getting an NCAA play off bid
 
Took great joy in watching you grow
Seeds of confidence and leadership
That you all have sowed
 
Impacted your character
Together, we changed lives
The goal was to give you wings
and watch you thrive
 
Gave me such great pleasure
Loved all of you and your feats
When you tackle life, remember
It’s just like putting on your cleats -

Lace them up tight
And learn from your defeats

It was my goal
To give great women the chance to thrive
simply gave them a venue for success to arrive 

Got as much as I gave
A platform for you to be brave

What I ask of you is to pay it forward like me
Support your friends, teammates and family 

Protect the sport as a conduit for growth
Treasure your time playing
And play for the love of the sport 

Make memories and friends
And don’t forget that what matters in the end

Is to take no prisoners
Do it with class
And don’t forget to go “kick some f-----ing ass”
According to Marine Cano, Bill told him that “when I go, I’m going to drive my daughters, you and lots of other people crazy – I’m going to knock things over and keep you on your toes.”  I think we can all still hear him, literally and figuratively and that he plays a role in our lives today.  But when something mysteriously gets knocked over, you might want to think twice because if anybody could send a message from on high, that would be Bill.  As he wrote to his PV Breakers players, he had many “memories and lasting relationships that could never be duplicated.”  We can take heart in knowing that he appreciated us as much as we appreciated him. 
 - Tribute Written By Trudi Sharpsten '85