Like many American-born baby-boomers, Bernie Hintz starting playing Little League baseball when he was 8 years old. Unlike most kids from Queens, however, he threw his friends and family a changeup.
"One day when I was 9, my dad, who had played some soccer, took me to a game at the Met Oval [in Ridgewood, Queens]," Hintz said. "I can remember watching with my arms on the railing and when they kicked the ball it sounded like a gun going off. The contact and the ferocity intrigued me. A spark was lit."
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That flame never went out for Hintz. "Fifty-two of my 62 years have been spent in soccer," said Hintz, a teenage star in Brooklyn's German-American League who went on to play at Queensboro Community College before earning a scholarship to Adelphi. Upon graduation, Hintz coached boys varsity soccer at Wheatley High School. He stayed for 34 years before retiring but couldn't stay away. At the urging of his wife, Betty, he coached another six years at North Shore before retiring after the 2011 season.
For his coaching accomplishments -- 326 victories, seven Nassau County championships, three Long Island titles and two state crowns -- Hintz will be inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame at a dinner in upstate Middletown on Nov. 17. The former home of the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta closed for financial reasons in 2010, but the organization continues to induct new members and hopes to eventually reopen.
Hintz, who visited the Hall of Fame when his team played upstate several years ago and marveled at the exhibits, never imagined such a lengthy and prolific career when he watched that first game at the Oval nor when he played his first game of soccer -- his coach was his father Julius, 92, who still lives in Ridgewood, -- for the Brooklyn Sports Club neighborhood team.
"We lost every game that first year, but by the third year, we won a state cup tournament," Hintz recalled.
Many more triumphs followed. "My finest years as a coach were my state title years in 1983 and 2004 [for Wheatley]," Hintz said. "But being able to share the sport with others means the most."
He coached three players at Wheatley who went on to play pro soccer -- Carlos Mendes (formerly of the Red Bulls who now plays for Columbus), Michael Masters (a former Long Island Rough Rider who scored the first goal by an American in a championship game at London's Wembley Stadium) and Roy Messing (younger brother of Hall of Fame goalie Shep) who played in the North American Soccer League.
Oddly, the most memorable moment of Hintz's soccer life came in a defeat. "One of my great regrets is that I was rarely able to see my own children play soccer because I was always coaching," Hintz said. "When my son made varsity at Great Neck South [in 2001], the first thing I did was schedule a non-league game. I told my athletic director, 'That's the only way I'll get to see David play."
The Great Neck South-Wheatley game that season was scoreless until the closing minutes. "There's a foul on one of my guys and I stood there and watched as my son put in the winning goal on a direct free kick from just outside the box," Hintz said. "Talk about being torn. I wanted to jump up and scream, 'Yeah!' But I had to keep it quiet because we had lost. But I was so glad I was able to watch it happen."
A loss was a win for a Hall of Fame coach.