Dr. Randy Rouse retires as C-I Boys head coach; family reflects on lifetime in the game
Overlooking Lake Superior on a dank Oct. 11 evening, the Cambridge-Isanti boys soccer squad was fighting for its season on Duluth East’s new pitch, but the Greyhounds used their skills to defeat the Bluejackets 4-1. Head coach Randy Rouse gathered his chilled boys after the game and gave them one more life-lesson speech before heading to the bus.
At the team’s banquet later that month, Dr. Rouse announced his retirement from coaching, ending a span in one form or another that reached back to the beginning of C-I soccer. Since the game was senior youngest son Josh’s final game for the Bluejackets, it marked the local end of the long line of high-octane, soccer playing children of Randy and Leora Rouse.
“We had a good last season because we had five foreign students plopped into our laps, who took over our midfield. They were able to pick right up on our system, and we had a very successful season,” reflected Rouse. “That allowed Josh to concentrate on attack, and he finished top-five in the state in scoring– from Cambridge!”
He continued, “The last game was deeply disappointing because one of our express goals was to get deeper in the playoffs– for the boys. One of the things I always tried to teach is the beauty of sport is a way to teach life. There’s a lot of losing in life– you win some, you lose some. Things go your way; they don’t go your way. That game was just another example of that, but you have to keep going on anyways.
“Sport has got these tremendous emotions connected to it– but, ultimately, it’s just a game.”
On Sunday, Nov. 18, five of the children and the parents met at the Rouse House to talk about the years of deep involvement in the family game: Sommer, Jacob, Molly, Maggie and Josh. Missing were the elder boys, Jonah and Jessie, who also were players.
The group that assembled in the living room scored roughly 250 goals and had 160 assists for Bluejacket soccer. Molly and Maggie are all over the C-I girls’ record books, and with his final goal against East, Josh tied Jake for the career-record goals for the C-I boys.
Love of soccer begins in Europe
Rouse did not pick up the game of soccer until he was in his early 20s while on a mission trip to Holland. Before that, he was a competitive basketball player in southern California. One of his hoops teammates was Keith Wilkes, who went on to play for Coach Wooden at UCLA and later changed his name to Jamaal Wilkes– he of the “Showtime” L.A. Lakers champion squad of the 1980s.
Randy found a photo of a group of long-haired, bearded guys posed on a field of long grass, taken in 1974.
“Our oldest, Jonah, was two on that mission trip to Holland. And these guys were the ones who I first played soccer with,” Rouse pointed to the pic. “I fell in love with soccer. What I really liked was how hard it was. What I learned about soccer is that it is – they say– nearly like a cult. It’s a passion sport, and when you fall in love with it, you’re in love because it is so hard. And when you master something, it’s such a good feeling.”
Rouse’s first coaching gig was Jonah’s five year-old team in 1978 in California, with the little guys playing on a full field. That was when soccer was in its infancy in the U.S.A. Rouse knocked down his medical school in Tulsa, Okla. and his residency in Spokane, Wash. before moving back to California for a medical stint for what was called a “public health payback.” Children Jessie and Sommer both began the game while the family was still in Bakersfield, Calif.
Leora explained, “Sommer was really the start of moving from rec soccer to more competitive soccer– playing on a higher-level travel team when she was 10.”
Randy stepped in, “When we moved here, soccer in this community was really in its infancy. The Cambridge-Isanti Soccer Club was just starting, and soccer was not in the schools yet. But I started coaching Sommer’s team here, and a whole group of people petitioned to the school board to get it a school sport. It was a three-year process: first as a club sport, then a JV, then a varsity. So Jessie was part of the JV, and Sommer was on the first girls club team. Jessie was part of a really good team full of competitive players– we whipped Totino-Grace that year!”
Sommer remembered, “We had no buses. Players got rides to games. We had a mixture of different jerseys. Our first field was actually the parking lot at the fairgrounds. Then the next year, they put two goals farther back on the fairgrounds, and we also played games at Isanti Middle School. My junior and senior years, I think we played on the field where Target is now– the first year it was mainly gravel. Jessie and I, never in our careers did we play on the high school field.”
Jacob said, “I grew up watching Sommer’s practices and games. I started playing when I was six or seven. You saw the net in our driveway– so much a part of growing up and learning to play was dribbling around on the cement, kicking probably 10,000 shots into our chain link fence and the net.”
Added Molly, “We used to hold pick-up matches with all the other kids in the neighborhood. They would usually end with either someone winning or someone crying– whatever happened first!”
Sommer chimed in, “A lot of our own games were me and Jake against Molly and Maggie. I don’t know how that was fair! And telling tiny Josh to hop into goal!”
Jacob continued, “It was around my seventh or eighth grade when the Isanti Soccer Complex was put together, so we were out there helping seed the fields, getting the goal posts in– all of us spending hours each week out there.”
Another photo was shared showing the Rouses out at the still-infant complex. Said Randy, “This is one of my favorite pictures. I always call that picture, ‘Why my kids are good.’ When no one else was around, they were out there playing. They kicked hundreds and hundreds of balls, and spent hours and hours getting good– all by themselves, outside the limelight, just getting good.
“The ante kept going up. So we started getting on better travel teams, and the kids went religiously to soccer camps, like the Thursday-night Coerver camps. That was our night out.” Added Josh, “And going to Old Country Buffet.”
“Our kids never missed practice. And Sommer, for years, reminded me she had to miss a practice one time because it was the day Josh was born in 1994!” said Randy.
For school soccer, Randy coached middle school teams for Jake, Molly and Maggie’s time on them. He was varsity assistant on Jake’s C-I varsity team, then he was Jacket girls varsity assistant with Sommer when she ran the program.
“Each year, we make sure the younger players are feeding the older players– making the older players have good seasons,” said Randy. “The kids are all phenomenal passers. I mean, Molly had a lot of goals, but it’s because Maggie had 60 assists. You have to have someone to play with; you can not do it alone in soccer. Soccer is truly a team sport.”
Payoffs from the game continue
Over time, soccer extended far beyond the Cambridge and Isanti fields for the Rouse kids. Jessie helped coach Jacob’s teams in high school and is still coaching youth teams.
Sommer played Division I at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, then she came back home to coach the Jacket girls to three straight conference championships. Now she coaches professionally with Pegasus, Coerver and her own camps.
Jacob was D-I at U of W-Green Bay. He has been a Bluejacket assistant coach with his dad these past four seasons, and also coaches with Pegasus and at the National Sports Center. While in Green Bay, he coached with the Wisconsin Olympic Development program.
Molly got her ride to the D-I University of Minnesota program. She is now coaching a year-round program at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, along with working for Coerver and other soccer camps.
Maggie played two years for D-II Southwest Minnesota State University of the NSIC; she has been a trainer for Sommer’s camps. Josh is planning on college soccer, still looking at his choices. He has coached Friday night rec soccer already.
“Some of my favorite memories are the year-round tournaments we went to when I was coaching Molly and Maggie. We went to Miami, San Diego, New York– literally, all over the nation,” said Sommer.
Leora added, “Jake’s gone to New York, Florida, Phoeniz, Tampa. Josh has gone to Vegas, and last summer Denmark and Sweden with the Champlin Rebels for the biggest youth tournament in the world; Randy assisted on that team, too.” “That was fun; that was crazy,” described Josh. “There was the Norway team in super-tight pink uniforms who would just smoke cigarrettes like crazy all over the place!”
Randy continued, “And then there was just the Midwest League– Columbus, Chicago, Iowa, Dallas, Kansas City. Molly played this summer in Canada.”
Said Molly, “And a hundred times before we’d leave for any of those, Mom would ask, ‘Do you have your cleats? Shin guards? Jerseys?’”
“One of the things we love about soccer is it truly is an international sport,” explained Leora. “You go off to college and meet someone from a different country, and soccer is an instant connection.”
This summer, Randy and Jake will help coach Josh’s premier team. Randy and Leora are also learning more about swimming since Jake’s wife, Gretchen– this year’s Section 3A Swim Coach of the Year– brought several of her Mound Westonka-Holy Family members to last week’s State meet.
But stepping away from the high school job will ultimately give Dr. Rouse a breather.
“What I really need to do is catch up on many things in life, because coaching really is consuming. While I love it and really have loved helping many, many young people learn lessons in life, I’m ready now to do some other things,” finished Randy. “Now I get to go watch Molly coach. I will still go watch all these kids team up to play adult co-ed in an indoor league in Coon Rapids. It’s unbelievable watching them– they just kill other teams!”