Tiger Tales: Memphis Soccer Blue Bloods
Growing up, freshman Memphis soccer player Kenneth Kauker always had a passion for the game.
This interest that Kauker developed stemmed from the exposure he received at a young age that is deeply rooted in the family.
"I've been around soccer my whole life. I would go watch men's league games with my dad and play with my brother's teams," he said, "All of my dad's friends that I know played soccer too so I guess that persuaded me."
Kenneth is the son of Mike Kauker, a former Tiger soccer player who was part of the team that started the soccer program at the University of Memphis in 1982. Because of Mike's love of the game in 1982, this makes Kenneth the first, second generation player for the Memphis men's soccer team.
Understanding the game in the 80's through the lens of Mike Kauker really puts into perspective the way soccer and college athletics has evolved for the Memphis Tigers over the last 20 years.
"We were kind of like the bad news bears. We were just a bunch of guys who loved to play," Mike stated. "We came in to play college soccer."
This love of the game that Mike and his teammates experienced in the early 1980's definitely came with its own set of struggles and challenges that most teams would never experience today. These challenges were ever-present in practice, games, and traveling for the team in 1982.
"We used to practice and play our games on Echles field with a giant hole in the middle of it and the grass was knee deep." Mike said. "We took our own cars on road trips; I think the coaches even used their own money to feed us."
Even through the challenges, this was the way of life for these student-athletes.
"We didn't know any better. It was college soccer and that's the way it was in 1982, so it was good times." Mike stated.
Although the challenges were not always easy, the team stuck together and created a solid program.
"Yes, we helped grow the game, but everybody did. There are countless coaches out there that helped us along and helped get us to where we got. Hopefully we helped them get to where they are," Mike stated. "Hopefully they will do the same in the future."
Mike and Diane Kauker were very excited that their son chose the University of Memphis to keep the tradition going.
"It was always an option for me." Kenneth stated. "It's nice to be here and join in that tradition with him."
With Kenneth now playing, it allows for Mike to see how the game has grown, evolved, and changed in the last 20 years.
"It's growing, improving, and getting stronger; I think in the States, we really emphasize speed and strength more so than technical ability, but it's huge now," Mike stated. "The only soccer you could watch on TV was on Saturday mornings on channel 10 and those were games in Germany that were made three years ago. Now it is everywhere."
Mike also has helped the program since he took part in the establishment by building the lockers that house the Tiger soccer players today.
"It is nice to know you did something to give back. When we came on Kenneth's visit, I was really impressed with everything they have done for the team," Mike said. "It is a good feeling to give back to guys, because you look back at my age and think `that was the best time I had of my life' and hopefully they realize that."
Mike has enjoyed watching the game grow from what he was use to in the 1980's.
"It has grown tremendously and the level of play has come up so much. The player I was then probably wouldn't even get on the field with these teams now." Mike stated.
With the times changing and the program growing, soccer is still the passion for the Kauker family.
"It's the kind of game you can play for life." Mike stated.
Playing for the program that his dad helped create in the 1980's has meant a lot to Kenneth and creates a great opportunity for the future. Scoring a goal in the game against Charlotte made it a career first for Kenneth in his time at the University of Memphis.
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