I started playing soccer in first grade in a league formed by one of my father’s colleagues at American Airlines, Tom Iadevaia. As the years went on my brothers and I were often on select teams directed by Coach Tom, and my brother David was good friends with his son TA, and so David was generally on Coach Tom’s team. Coach Tom is in the Oklahoma Soccer Hall of Fame, and can be credited for developing some of the largest and most successful youth leagues in the US, and bringing pro-soccer to Tulsa in the 1970s.
Coach Tom was always a great guy, he took us to soccer camps in California, and one year his son TA and my brother David and I were sent on to LA alone because Coach Tom got bumped from the flight (we all flew standby on AA because my dad and Coach Tom worked there and could fly free). The crew locked us in a room in LAX and we had to wait for Coach Tom to catch the next flight from Dallas.
The original North American Soccer League was seeking to expand and investors were checking out various cities, knowing that soccer isn’t like other sports and that pockets of immigrants could really propel a city to be a strong soccer market. Tulsa had all of that, as Tom knew. In 1975, the Brazilian soccer god, Pele’, developed an interest in the United States after playing some “friendlies” with his Santos Team. He toured the United States and put on workshops in various cities, including Tulsa.
I remember before Pele’s visit we all sat around at Coach Tom’s house and watched a video (Tom was a computer guy and one of the first to have such newfangled technology) of Pele and the Brazilian team training. Pele juggling grapefruits and talking about how he never had shoes or a ball when he was a kid, so he made do with what he could find. It was riveting. Then, Coach Tom turned it off and said, “You know boys, he’s coming here.” It was unbelievable. But, sure enough, in a few months Coach Tom called up all of the strong kids and we met at one of the fields and there he was, Pele’. We did the drills and conditioning just like the Brazilian team, with Pele’ urging us on and showing us the proper way to cross legs, strike the ball, head the ball, and juggle. After, a few of us got to go back to Coach Tom’s house (a half mile from our house) and have pizza and talk with Pele. We tried to get him to juggle some oranges, but he laughed and said “I have a ball now.”
Pele’ came back a few years later as a member of the New York Cosmos playing the Tulsa Roughnecks in 1978. We were all there, and it was all because of Coach Tom. Tulsa was selected as an expansion city because of Pele’—he could feel it—and because of Coach Tom, who showed Pele what was going on in soccer in Tulsa. Coach Tom talked about this in an interview with the Tulsa World, “What you had back then in Tulsa were a lot of ethnics in a Midwestern city that had never heard of soccer,” said Iadevaia. “The University of Tulsa had a lot of students from the Middle East coming here for the petroleum engineering school. Oral Roberts had a bunch of international students…Plus, you had a lot of guys like me that moved here with American Airlines or Metropolitan Life or the oil companies. We had people here from all over the world.” Tulsa had one of the highest attendance ratings in the NASL and won the Soccer Bowl in 1983.
Looking back, I should have stayed closer to Tom Iadevaia. I quit playing on the select teams in 1980 to focus on juvenile delinquency and motocross. Who knows what would have happened if I had stayed. My brother’s teammate, Joe Max Moore, went on to play in three World Cups.
I’ll never forget Coach Tom, his voice, his laugh, and his encouragement.