Before there was McCovey’s Cove in San Francisco, there was Ransom’s Grove in Miami.
Allow us to explain:
The soccer field at Ransom Everglades overlooks Biscayne Bay, which makes for an idyllic setting to play and watch the world’s most popular game. But it also means losing an occasional soccer ball to the lagoon that sits just beyond the field.
To remedy that problem, the kids at the Coconut Grove school used to get on rowboats to retrieve balls.
Jay Flipse, a former Ransom soccer player who went on to win four state titles as a coach at Killian and Sunset high schools, remembers nearly being lost at sea because of a strong current.
“There were literally fish flying over our canoe,” said Flipse, who was in the boat with a teammate. “We had to row like crazy to get back to shore.”
At some point, a “Canoe Crew” was created — two young female students at Ransom whose job it was to paddle out and bring back the lost inventory.
“But these girls weren’t very water savvy,” said Jim Beverley, who has been around the Ransom program since the 1950s as a player, head coach and currently as an assistant. “One day, they went out to get a ball, and the game went on, and after about 20 minutes, someone asked, ‘Hey, where are the girls?’
“We had to send a motorboat to find them. The wind was blowing out, and they were halfway across the bay when we found them. … That was the end of the Canoe Crew.”
Flipse said things have since changed at Ransom, which charges $34,000 a year in tuition and has a healthy soccer budget.
“They must spend thousands on soccer balls because they don’t chase after them anymore,” Flipse said. “Ransom is the only program I know that brings 25 soccer balls to a game.”
Dave Villano, a former high school teammate of Flipse who is now in his 30th season as Ransom’s head coach, said he and his staff have learned to read the tides better, salvaging some of their inventory.
But not all of it.
“Some person who lives behind that field,” Flipse said, “probably has 100 soccer balls along his seawall.”
McCovey’s Cove is the nickname for a section of San Francisco Bay beyond the right-field wall at AT&T Park. During San Francisco Giants baseball games, some fans patrol those waters in kayaks, often with fishing nets, in hopes of catching a home run ball.
Retrieving balls on boat is a great tradition, but Ransom’s kids can say they did it first.
CHAMPIONSHIP AT LAST
The Florida High School Activities Association has been sponsoring boys’ soccer state championships since 1977, and Ransom has played for the title twice.
The first time was in 1979, when Ransom lost 2-0 to Orlando’s Bishop Moore. Villano was a senior on that team.
The Ransom Raiders didn’t return to the state final again for nearly 40 years. But Ransom finally won its first championship in 2016, and this time Villano was the head coach.
Ransom beat Tampa Catholic 3-2 this past February, coming back from deficits in each of their final three do-or-die games.
The Raiders’ title run was a labor of love for Villano, 55, and his colorful assistants.
Beverley, 72, was raised in South American and is a bit of a Ransom historian. Michiel “Monkey” Johan van de Kreeke, 46, speaks five languages and is a former Olympic sailor.
All three coaches are former Ransom soccer players, but their interconnectivity goes beyond that. Beverley coached Villano at Ransom, and Villano coached van de Kreeke.
“We’re known as the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost,” van de Kreeke joked.
But it’s not just the coaches who have come back to help the program. There are numerous former players who return to support the team. Villano encourages it, and the alumni often participate in scrimmages against the current kids.
Arturo Pedroso, a senior vice president at Bessemer Trust, a wealth management firm, played for Ransom from 1998 to 2003.
Pedroso said he thinks the current Ransom kids benefit from playing against grown men whenever the alumni come around. More importantly, he said, everyone involved is enriched for having played at Ransom.
“Some of my closest friends are still the guys who were on those Ransom teams,” Pedroso said. “Those are the people I call every day.
“(Villano) has built something special there. All the alumni are very close, even the ones I didn’t graduate with. We’ve built a bond.”
When the district playoffs begin on Jan. 27, Ransom figures once again to be a threat, thanks in part to Michael Colonna, a senior forward.
“Colonna is as good an athlete as I’ve seen in 50 years of coaching,” Beverley said.
But as good as Colonna is, the players and coaches are just part of the story at Ransom, where nature is the co-star.
Mangroves line the north and east sides of the field, and retrieving an errant ball from those thick shrubs can be tricky.
In addition, there have been times when wild animals have invaded the field, from a fox to a six-foot iguana. Macaws have been spotted over head.
“I’ve seen iguanas come on the field that look like little dinosaurs,” Beverley said. “They go on the field to sun themselves, and they don’t care who you are — you have to stay out of their way.”
Beverley said Paul C. Ransom, a New York lawyer and educator who founded the school in 1903, did so with full respect for the environment.
“In this bay, there are manatees and dolphins. There are saltwater crocodiles who go on boat docks to sun themselves,” Beverley said. “This is their natural habitat.”
Some would say it’s a natural place for Ransom soccer, too. Some would also say that soccer and nature are in perfect harmony here.
Beverley said he has at times been distracted by the sight of an osprey swooping down from the mangroves to grab a fish.
“If you watch an osprey, you can learn how to score goals,” Beverley said. “An osprey doesn’t just dive down and get a fish. He gets himself in good position with the sun behind him. It’s all about position and timing — just like scoring goals.”