Mike Churchville, as influential as he was popular in Philadelphia soccer, passed away earlier this month at the age of 61. Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer CEO Chris Branscome wrote the following article in memory of the man known as "Church." It will appear in the Spring 2017 Issue of Touchline, Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer's quarterly magazine.
Remembering The “Church” of Soccer
By Chris Branscome, Chief Executive Officer, Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer
To many, soccer is like a religion or at least a religious experience. We faithfully attend “church” every Saturday or Sunday, sometimes with the whole family, sometimes with friends. We try to practice during the week what we learned about on the weekend. Sometimes we visit a cathedral, maybe a Wembley or an Anfield, to take part in a larger service. Maybe, if you were lucky enough, you witnessed any of the saints of our church like Pele, Zidane or Mia.
In Southeastern Pennsylvania soccer, there was another church. We respected and honored this church. This church embodied all that is good about soccer. This church wasn’t a congregation or building, but a person: Our now departed friend Mike Churchville, simply known to all as “Church.”
Mike Churchville did more for the soccer community than most people can imagine, sometimes behind the scenes, sometimes leading the way. He was without question an evangelist for the sport, who did everything to help it grow and succeed in Philadelphia for over fifty years.
As his close friend Michael Nelms remarked at his services in early March, “How do you talk about someone who was bigger than life? You start with a soccer ball.”
Church started his lifetime in soccer in 1964 playing for the Somerton Youth Organization. He moved on to Archbishop Ryan in 1969 and began a forty-plus year connection to his alma mater. He scored a goal in the 1972 Catholic League Final, helping Ryan win the first of many championships. He moved on to play at La Salle University from 1973-77 and helped those teams to league championships and top-twenty rankings. For Mike Churchville, Ryan and LaSalle provided a profound experience in athletics and education that he would share with others the rest of his life, becoming a coach and mentor to many.
Church played an integral role in the development of soccer in our area. In the late 70’s, indoor soccer had come to town, but everyone was playing in gyms until Mike helped to open and operate the Woodhaven Sportsplex. Throughout the 80’s, Woodhaven was the only indoor facility of its kind, and Mike was there, seemingly, every day and every night. Mike did anything and everything to help soccer build its base in those days. It seemed the only place anyone played in the winter was at Woodhaven. It was the meeting place, the “church,” we all congregated at.
Mike helped the state association to grow and develop as well, hosting our recreation festivals and the Indoor Cups at his facility for over two decades. He would do anything to help. Mike even assisted a young marketing exec with the Philadelphia Kixx spread the good word of professional indoor soccer and create a new generation of soccer fans in the 90’s. Asking Church to help promote soccer was the easiest ask I ever made. He’d say yes before I could finish the sentence.
The Sportsplex eventually moved from its original spot on Woodhaven Road to Feasterville. From soccer, to dog shows, to roller derby, Mike handled it all with humor and expertise, although perhaps not everyone thought so at the time, especially when Mike postponed his honeymoon to run a celebrity soccer match pitting Philadelphia celebrities against the rock band, Def Leppard. At the concert following the game, Def Leppard dedicated their hit “Pour Some Sugar on Me” to Mike and the boys. Mike’s crowning moment at the Sportsplex, though, was when he held in his hands the World Cup trophy, calling his friends to join him in a soccer fan’s dream moment.
Church also spent time coaching at the professional level with the Philadelphia Freedom. He served as an assistant to Mike Barr, now our Technical Director. “Mike was a real player's coach,” coach Barr said. “His sense of humor and knowledge of the game made every practice and match memorable. I think every person who met Mike felt comfortable and happy in his presence.”
Saying thank you doesn’t quite do it, because he did so much for our sport. Mike Churchville never minded the hard work. He loved it and everyone knew it.
Special acknowledgement to Michael Nelms and the Archbishop Ryan Hall of Fame