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Soccer | Bainbridge's Red Zingers still going strong
Last summer, a reckless driver destroyed a good portion of the fence in front of Jay Strauss’ home.
Since his insurance didn’t cover it, Strauss was in no hurry to repair the fence.
A month later, he received an email from a soccer teammate, asking where he had been.
“I said, ‘Listen, my mother-in-law has just passed away; my wife and I are flying to Texas. I’ll catch up with you when I get back.”
When Strauss returned several days later, the fence had been rebuilt, and he knew his Red Zinger teammates were the ones who repaired it.
The Red Zingers – an island soccer team that competes in the Greater Seattle Soccer League – have been together for nearly 30 years.
“We tried to get teams over here for a while,” David Dessinger said. “Which we could do because at least during the summer time we could play at Battle Point. We gave up because teams couldn’t figure out how to organize and catch a ferry. They’d end up with seven or eight people, which was no fun for either side.”
The Zingers, which began competing in the GSSL as an over-30s team, has moved up the ranks over the decades and now competes in the over-50s classification.
“We’re kind of a funny group,” Dessinger said. “Our friendships are more important to us than our competitiveness although we, within our ability, are always competitive. That’s part of what we enjoy.”
The team has had several undefeated seasons through the years and won its division this past season, finishing 7-2 in March. The team has a short break before play begins again later this month.
The team began as an offshoot of a women’s team.
“Wives started playing first, and husbands felt left out,” Dessinger said. “It didn’t take a long time before the men started in. That was slightly before my time. It all came out of bozo soccer at Battle Point (Park). We played once a week on Sundays.”
Dessinger, who picked up soccer while living in Vancouver, B.C., was looking for a team when he moved to the island more than 20 years ago.
“I started playing what we call pickup – or bozo – back then,” he said. “I played whenever I could until the Red Zingers then invited me to come along for a game.”
Many of the team members are newcomers to soccer. Strauss had never played soccer before joining the Zingers 10 years ago.
A Red Zinger who coached his daughter’s soccer team encouraged him to pick up the sport, Strauss said.
“He said, ‘If you’re going to continue to coach you should play, perhaps, and gain a better understanding of the game,’” Strauss said.
When Strauss tried to return the jersey after the game, teammate Bobby Schott told him to keep it.
“He said, ‘Once you got the jersey, you’re in,’” Strauss said.
Over the years, the Zingers have seen players come and go, but they’re never surprised if a former teammate makes a cameo appearance for a match.
“We never throw anybody away,” Dessinger said. “We say, ‘Once a Zinger, always a Zinger.’ There’s a guy who played with us who’s in Florida now. He worked for the airlines and he was based out of Chicago, so he gets the record for longest commute for a game. He’d fly in for an afternoon, meet us a field and after the game he’d go to the hotel and catch a flight out.”
The Zingers’ easy-going attitude about games is reflected in their only rule.
“No practices,” Dessinger said. “That’s the only bylaw we’ve ever had.”
Camaraderie extends beyond the pitch
“We have a social network,” Dessinger said. “The core is still Bainbridge Island. We see each other on a regular basis.”
In addition to carpooling to games, the Zingers have celebrated holidays together.
“These guys are very much a family,” Strauss said. “Those guys instilled a big family type of vibe to it. They get together after the season’s over, and there’s usually a get together. Any reason to get together.”
The weekly ferry rides also create an opportunity for lively discussion.
“We’re all opinionated and no one’s bashful,” Dessinger said. “It keeps us active and a little combative but it’s all friendly.”
“We have some fun,” Strauss said. “We have our occasional moments of silliness when one of the right wingers behind me will say, ‘Jay, go right’ as a field instruction and I’ll say, ‘you wish.’”
Despite any political differences, the Zingers always keep it friendly.
“It’s like a family without the disfunction,” Strauss said, “It hasn’t happened in a way that it does when you are with people for a long time.”
Strauss, who missed the last two seasons due to injury, still feels like a newcomer despite being with the team for a decade.
“The core guys have been really, really tight and together for a long time and they’re just very embracing,” he said. “I’ve been around for 10 years and I still feel like one of the new guys. A few guys have come after me, but not many.”
One of the challenges of competing in Seattle is the travel time.
“I only worked in Seattle two of my 20 years here,” Strauss said. “I was always one of those guys who was stopping what I was doing, getting on a boat, playing for 90 minutes and going back. But hey, these guys do it. You got to keep going.”
Strauss recruited Tim O’Mara, whose daughter played soccer with Strauss’s daughter.
“We know each other’s triumphs, grandchildren, all these things and tribulations,” O’Mara said. “I think it’s most special for these guys who have been here for the longest – it’s amazing.”
The Spencer Buffington Memorial
Every Memorial Day weekend, the Zingers and their families meet in Port Townsend for a weekend of soccer and celebration.
“That’s a play on words, because Spencer is still quite alive,” Dessinger said. “He used to be on the team.”
The Zingers stay in the officers quarters rentals at Fort Worden, and fill the weekend with family activities.
“One of our members is a restaurant chef, and so we’ve had everything,” Dessinger said. “He flew in Maine lobster one year – that was as elegant as it ever got. We’d always barbecue, and we had a talent night. It gets all the kids involved.”
The reunion has gathered as many as 100 people for the long weekend.
“Even last year when the bridge was out, and people had to drive around, we still had 60, 65 people,” Dessinger said.
While the team has left players behind as it moved up in the age divisions, Zingers often rejoin the team over time.
“It’s a joyous grind,” O’Mara said. “I’ll play until I can’t run up and down the field anymore.”
The team opens the season April 12.
“It’s amazing after all this time, they’re able to bring enough guys to keep it going,” Strauss said. “It’s a very long-running little circus.”
What’s a Red Zinger?
“It’s a brand of tea. Not very exciting for a bunch of men who like to drink beer.” -Jay Strauss
“Some years ago someone even wrote a letter to the Red Zinger tea company in Boulder just to say we’re their team and if they’d like to support us. Of course they never answered.” -David Dessinger