Long before “educational equity” became a catchphrase, Alma Taeuber (pronounced TOY-ber) worked tirelessly to create an inclusive environment that welcomed kids of all abilities to come together, get some exercise, and have fun with their friends playing soccer.
It began in 1970, when Alma and Karl Taeuber moved back to Madison with a young son who wanted to play soccer. He played briefly for a Shorewood team before aging out. Having no other options, Alma made phone calls to friends and neighbors and eventually assembled a new youth team in the Regent Neighborhood. Karl Taeuber coached that first team with a neighbor. The very next year, the Taeubers got permission from a Randall Elementary to hand out flyers inviting kids to come to a soccer event. Expecting only a few kids to show up, Alma and Karl were delighted to have around 60 kids participate.
Alma then began doing what she did best: inspiring parents to volunteer as coaches and organizing players into teams. Her goal was for every child to have an opportunity to play, regardless of skill level.
According to Karl, Alma never played competitive sports but was a natural athlete who liked to participate in many amateur sporting activities. He said she learned how to downhill ski as a high school student because she had heard that the winner of a competition would receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the Squaw Valley Ski Resort to meet Olympic skiers. She won that competition.
Alma was a scholar, graduating with a Master’s and Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Chicago. She spent many long hours reading, thinking, and writing about inequality. She was also one of the founders of the Wingra School, a progressive private elementary school in Madison. And after her son was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 19, she became a tireless volunteer with the Dane County chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, which established a distinguished service award in her honor.
So, why soccer? Alma and Karl were attracted to soccer because it allowed kids of all skill levels to get outside and get exercise while experiencing the joys and challenges of being part of a team. Under Alma’s care, the Regent Soccer Club grew throughout the 1970s and 80s into a nonprofit organization with nearly 40 teams. She and Karl were also longtime stalwarts of the Madison Area Youth Soccer Association board, which oversees the Regent club among others in the area.
Countless hours of volunteer time were given by Alma and those she inspired over nearly two decades. She was frequently found in the afternoons visiting a practice or a game, bringing coaches training books, equipment, and encouragement. There were lots of late nights and missed dinners as the Taeubers created team schedules, completed registration, or did the other tasks required to operate a large soccer club. In a letter dated January 2, 1989, Coach Stephen Brown (who won a state championship with Madison’s West High School boys in 1984) related that for years Alma kept a “seemingly limitless supply of soccer balls for the neophyte coach to get a team operating. Her supply of cones is surpassed only by those of the Wisconsin Department for Transportation and Madison Street Department.”
It all paid off. Regent teams won various competitions and created a player pool for West High soccer teams (that won the state championship again in 1987 and 1988) and the UW-Madison soccer program. Since her stepping down in 1989, the club has continued to grow, and has had around 1,000 players for the past decade, producing many athletes who have impacted soccer in Wisconsin. More importantly, under Alma’s care, the Regent Soccer Club found a place for every player who wanted to join a team. For Alma, participation was far more important than winning. She was interested in developing the child’s abilities, regardless of level.
Alma’s dedication to neighborhood life and equal access were noticed by many. Luminaries in the Madison Soccer Community like Bill Reddan observed that she was “directly responsible for forming a club which had a lot of influence on kids' ability to play.” As one person noted in a letter written in December 14, 1988, “Her work, spirit, and unselfish commitment of time and energy exemplifies community service at the highest level.” Letters of commendation for her volunteer effort came in from then-Gov. Tommy Thompson, the Wisconsin State Senate and Assembly, and many others. In 1989, a large group of parents as well as current and former players came together to honor Alma. Today, you can still visit the Alma Taeuber commemorative plaque at the Vilas Park soccer field.
It’s inspiring to see that the dedication to players, open access for everyone who wants to play, and the neighborhood-based focus of the club has persisted for all of these years. Alma’s influence has been woven into the very fabric of the club, much as the logo has remained essentially unchanged since 1979. Some people have such a profound influence that their philosophy of care persists long after they are gone.
Alma’s one regret was that she didn’t do more to provide access to soccer for underserved neighborhoods with fewer resources. She’s left us all something to work on. Alma may not have scored the goals, but she started a club that has created a love of soccer for tens of thousands.
Well done Alma, and thank you for everything.
Alma Taeuber (1933-2009)