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In the 1960s, missionaries from such foreign places as Greece and England and South America and New York City landed on Springfield's barbarian shore. They introduced to the natives a new gospel that had conquered the rest of the world – soccer. Some had been players at home, others just fans, but all loved the game and like all enthusiasts wanted everyone in their adopted home to love it too.

Fittingly they spread the word via the local branch of the Young Men's Christian Association, which sponsored a men's team whose members became organizers, referees and coaches to build their new church. Prominent among them were the Gonulsen brothers, Yavuz and Aydin, proud sons of Izmir, Turkey (the famed ancient city of Smyrna), on Turkey's Aegean coast.

If Yavuz was, as many referred to him, the grandfather of soccer in Springfield, his six-years-younger brother, Aydin, was a creature of the game. An All-American player at North Carolina's Warren Wilson College, where he set the school's single-season goal-scoring record, Aydin from 1968 to 1976 was the coordinator of the YMCA youth soccer program and the first athletic director and head soccer coach at the then-Sangamon State University (in 1977), which he led to three national championships. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the small-college NCAA, twice named him national Coach of the Year and inducted him into its hall of fame in 2000 for his life achievements as a coach, recruiter and international ambassador for the sport. In 2002 Aydin also was inducted into the Springfield Sports Hall of Fame.

This story appeared in the Illinois Times on Dec. 30, 2021.

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