“I thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” says former athletic director Peter Gooding of his arrival, nearly four decades ago, as Amherst soccer coach.
By E.G.B.

In 1968, a young coach with a British pedigree arrived at Amherst to lead the soccer team. Peter Gooding went on to serve as athletic director for 28 years. After retiring as AD in 2005, he coached his final Amherst soccer game in fall 2006, and next academic year, after a sabbatical, he will officially retire from the college.

As a teenager in England, Gooding earned national acclaim as a soccer player. In 1965 he crossed the Atlantic to play in a semipro league and to teach and coach in British Columbia. He was soon coaching at UMass and at Barnstable (Mass.) High School. When he came to Amherst, intercollegiate soccer was growing in popularity in the United States. “I thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” Gooding says. “I was actually being paid to coach a college team.” Win Smith ’71 played on Gooding’s first Amherst squad. “He had a unique ability to bring out the best in people,” Smith says.

In 1976, as dean of the first coed freshman class, Gooding helped to guide the college through its transition to coeducation. The following year he became AD and developed from scratch an athletic program for women. Even though he was already coaching men’s lacrosse and men’s soccer, he added women’s squash to his own coaching schedule, simply because he wanted the women to have a team.

“For nearly four decades,” says President Anthony W. Marx, “Peter has honored and strengthened the ideal of the scholar-athlete while guiding athletics through a series of momentous changes. He has maintained Amherst’s leadership in athletics both through the program he has developed and by his own important contributions.”

As AD, Gooding worked hard—with mixed success, he says—to convince faculty that athletics can be an intellectual endeavor. Allen Guttmann, an internationally known sports historian who is the college’s Emily C. Jordan Folger Professor of English and American Studies, has made the case over the years that club teams should replace intercollegiate sports. But he allows that Gooding was “the ideal person to be in charge” of intercollegiate athletics at Amherst: “He was more interested in the welfare of the students than in whether the team won or lost.”

To Gooding, winning is a faulty measure of success. He says he has been disheartened in recent years to hear players and parents demand that losing coaches be replaced. He even bristles at being described by his own distinguished record as an Amherst soccer coach: 232-134-43. Gooding guided men’s soccer to the NCAA Regional Finals in 1998 and 2002. The National Soccer Coaches Association of America awarded him its highest distinction, the Honor Award, in 2001. He was president and director of coaching of the NSCAA and helped initiate and design its Academy Program. He also served the NCAA on the Committee on U.S. Women’s Athletics and on the men’s and women’s Soccer Rules Committees.

As a coach, Gooding taught not only technical skills but also perspective. “If it was practice versus labs, you went to labs,” says soccer co-captain Dave Bushnell ’76. Rob Minicucci ’75 played lacrosse in 1972, when a local antiwar protest conflicted in time with a big game against UMass. With Gooding’s blessing, Minicucci says, some players took part in the protest. The team lost. “A lot of us felt we lived and died for sports and if you lost a game, my god, it was the end of the world,” says Minicucci, who played in the match. “Peter never liked to lose, but he put it in perspective.”
Gooding became the Parmly Billings Professor of Hygiene and Physical Education in 1994, and his son, Milton, eventually joined him as co-head soccer coach. This fall, Suzanne Coffey replaced Gooding as AD (see “Amherst names new athletic director,” College Row, Summer/Fall 2006).

Next, Gooding looks forward to teaching short NSCAA courses to coaches. “I came to this country as a soccer coach,” he says, “and within reason I would hope to leave the country still coaching soccer or engaged in how soccer is coached. It may seem like a trivial pursuit, but not to me.”

Photo: Frank Ward