THE FORMER players of the George Washington High School varsity boys' soccer teams from 1963-1988 have a beef with the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Frisco, Texas. The man at the center of their complaint is what unites them, all of these years later.
The problem stems from the hall of fame not inducting the team's head coach, John Hughes. The captain of the 1967 George Washington team, Ron Aurit, called the hall of fame on Nov. 28 to find out why his coach is not honored.
Aurit said the hall of fame hung up. This does not stop Aurit and other players from meeting today to honor the coach who is more than a mentor, but a friend.
"When we played, we had to be close with each other because John made us that way," Aurit said. "When I talked to the guys about meeting up recently, you could tell the bond was still there because of John."
Hughes coached from 1961-1988. He started his career at Stetson Junior High School and later led teams from George Washington, Delran High School and The Philadelphia College of Textiles and Sciences (now Philadelphia University).
During this time, his teams won three Public League championships, nine league titles at Delran and two New Jersey state co-championships.
Inside his home in Morristown, N.J., the 89-year-old's basement is full of trophies.
It has been 28 years since he last coached, but he remembers his players and they remember him. It is why many of them meet the coach throughout each year.
The most recent time was when Aurit and his George Washington teammates joined Hughes at his house for coffee and cake in November, reminiscing about the times they spent together.
"They come over and look at all the trophies in my basement that they earned, I just helped coach," Hughes said. "I think it is great they still think of me, I look at these guys and I know they are old, but it is great they still want to be a part of me."
Hughes learned how to play soccer as an 8-year-old at Kensington's Lighthouse Boys Club in 1934. After participating in baseball, diving, basketball, gymnastics and boxing, soccer stood out as his favorite.
He attended Northeast High school and played soccer from 1942-1944. Hughes was a co-captain his senior year.
In the same season, no opponent scored a goal and Northeast won the Public League Championship. Hughes played as a forward for the American Professional Soccer League (APSL) after signing with the German Americans team his senior year of high school in 1944.
He received a scholarship to play for Temple in 1945, but deferred instead to serve in the Navy until August 1946. After returning to Philadelphia, Hughes joined the Owls and was All-American in 1947 and 1948.
"World War II was getting near the end and I joined the Navy and when I was in Okinawa, Japan, the war was over," Hughes said. "Then after I left Temple, I rejoined the league."
He played with the German Americans again, continuing an APSL career that lasted for 15 seasons while playing for seven teams. He won championships with the Philadelphia Americans in 1951-1952 and again with the New York Hakaoh in the 1956-1957 seasons.
He retired as a player in 1961 and kicked off his coaching career that year.
Hughes stopped coaching in 1988, but the impression he left is the reason his players are still trying to get Hughes on a ballot. A fullback and sweeper back at Washington from 1944-1947, George Sharp credits Hughes for more than coaching.
"One of the big things he talked about goes beyond soccer, you want to be a strong person, a strong individual," Sharp said. "You can't succeed if your mind is not right and then you have the capability to succeed whether it is soccer, school or interpersonal relationships in life."
The hall of fame criteria states that inductees must have participated in 20 full international games for the United States, but only 10 if the games happened before 1990. A player must complete at least five seasons in an American first-division professional league and be a selected all-star at least once.
Hughes played in 18 international games in his 15 seasons in the APSL, going against teams like Manchester United, Liverpool and the Brazil national team in 1954.
With his career behind him, Hughes still has a chance to be elected.
The selection committee picks 10 or 15 finalists from the veteran's eligibility list. From this list, the members select one name to be inducted every year.
Hughes remained on the eligibility list from 2000 to 2013, when the committee enacted the "Sunset Law." Because of the law, candidates who failed to become finalists over eight consecutive years were no longer eligible.
In 2014, its board of directors included a provision stating that players could be reconsidered if someone other than the player made a request. Since Aurit and his former teammates reached out, the hall of fame will add Hughes to the 2017 eligibility list.
Many of his players hope he will be inducted during his lifetime. Whether his name is in the hall or not, the impact this coach left on his players is a memory each of them cherish.