Soccer is probably the most played sport in the world. With thousands of youth leagues, adult leagues, professional levels, Major League Soccer and the World Cup and International Leagues, the sport spans the globe. It’s among the most popular spectator sports in the world.
It’s also the most popular sport in the Groben family. Father Bill Groben played soccer throughout his childhood. Mother Anne Groben never played soccer, but, in her own words, has become a full-fledged “soccer mom.”
Despite never playing soccer, genetics could definitely play a role in her children’s athleticism, as her uncle, Nick McMay, played Minor League Baseball with baseball Hall of Famer Phil Niekro’s father, Phil Niekro, Sr. As the story goes, McKay taught Niekro, Sr. the knuckleball; Niekro, Sr. later taught his son the knuckleball, a pitch Niekro, Jr. used all the way to the baseball Hall of Fame.
As impressive as that is, her brother David Longer played college football at Yale and a cousin, Albert Schoterman, participated in the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, in the hammer throw. Soccer, in Anne Groben’s words, was the sport that “just stuck around.”
“When my husband coached soccer, and there was a tournament one weekend. That one weekend, our family was involved in 17 different games, soccer is just a huge part of the family,” she explained.
Children Billy, Tony and Maria all play soccer. Billy, who graduated from Thomas Dale High School in 2009, currently attends James Madison University and is on the roster for the current soccer season. Tony is a rising junior at Thomas Dale under coach Mark Fowler and Maria is a rising sophomore and member of the Lady Knights. All of the family’s soccer players play goalie with the exception of Maria, who plays defense. In fact, Tony was actually Billy’s back-up last season.
“Maria never showed an affinity for the goal,” said Anne Groben. “The boys and Dad were definitely all about the goal.”
Billy’s scholarship to JMU was one of many accomplishments the Grobens hope for. He was also a Quill and Scroll member at Thomas Dale. He garnered several accolades as a senior at Thomas Dale, including All-Metro, All-Region and All-District first team honors. He was a member of four district championship teams, and just missed Thomas Dale’s last soccer state championship in 2005.
“Billy did a great job and we’re proud of him,” Anne Groben said. “We’re just hoping for the best, my other two are still young so there’s a lot left for them to accomplish.”
As for Tony, he was a varsity player last year during his sophomore season and humbly backed up his big brother. In soccer, backup goalies rarely play, usually just in case of injury. This year, Tony may get his due, as he will have a chance to start on varsity for the Knights.
Maria started her freshman year on the junior varsity squad, but her hard work earned a call-up to varsity, where she finished the season strong for head coach John Kabler. Maria will be in competition for a starting job this year, as well.
The children have also all played in Europe. In fact, Billy was able to play with retired FC Barcelona players on a trip he took across the Atlantic. Locally, Billy, Tony and Maria played for the YMCA, the Richmond Strikers and the Chesterfield Soccer Club.
The three Grobens excel in the classroom as well, as Billy was a member of the National Honor Society and Tony and Maria are members of the National Junior Honor Society.
All three children have also shown an affinity for music. Billy was a member of the chamber chorus at Thomas Dale, Tony is a member of the orchestra, playing the string bass, and Maria is in the school band, playing percussion.
“They had a little rock band when they were young,” said Anne Groben. “I know my husband was glad when they played music – those were the few times he wasn’t repairing the fence in the back yard from kicked balls.”
In addition to their skills on the field and in the classroom, the three Grobens contribute a good share of time to helping improve the lives of others off the field. All three are active in church and volunteer with various organizations, including Retreat Hospital in Richmond and CARITAS, an organization with a branch in Richmond that helps the homeless.
Billy and the Dukes have started their season off on the right foot with a 4-0 record, and Tony and Maria will start their seasons in the spring for the Knights.