The John F Kennedy Cup: The Legacy of an International Cup Competition on the West Coast, 1960 – 2018
The 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was an avid sportsman; he played American Football and was a member of his high school swim team. From the onset of his political career, Kennedy made regular visits to baseball as well as basketball events and even valued the physicality and endurance of Soccer. President Kennedy was also a veteran of World War II, and naturally found value in being in tip-top condition. “We are under-exercised as a nation” he said while speaking at the NFL Hall of Fame’s 1961 black-tie event, “we look instead of play, ride instead of walk.” The remedy, Kennedy concluded, “lies in one direction… that is, in developing programs for broad participation in exercise by all of our young men and women, all of our boys and girls.”
Canada was also interested in the benefits of improved physical fitness—at least their soccer federation was. The Canadian National team participated in their first world cup qualifiers leading into the 1958 affair. Mexico dominated the qualifiers and represented the continent in Sweden later that year—but the Canadians finished second in North American qualifying and ideas for a new international cup tournament, which would pit the best of Canada’s Pacific Coast Soccer League against the highest caliber amateur sides from leagues in Washington, Oregon, California and even Mexico, were bubbling as early as 1960. Despite the length and breadth of Canada, the top players had been drawn regularly from the PCSL in British Columbia—and it was the unofficial hotbed of soccer there.
The cup competition made it’s debut in 1961, guaranteeing the participation of players from the entire west coast of the United States and President Kennedy lent his name to the trophy as a component of his physical fitness campaign. He had established a Council on Youth Fitness as early as 1956, but, once he was president, Kennedy retitled the program as The President’s Council on Physical Fitness. The Cup is unique, in that it is the only sporting award President Kennedy ever put his name to. The cup competition, known as the Pacific Coast International Championship, ran from 1961 to 1967 and was largely dominated by the Mexican Select sides – Vancouver Firefighters won the tournament twice in its initial run, in 1962 and ’66; However, it was the story book Victoria O’Keefe’s Cup run in 1967 which landed them in both the Victoria Sports Hall of Fame as well as the BC Sports Hall of Fame.
The club better known as Victoria United, who added the O’Keefe’s as part of a sponsorship with a beer company of that name, won the cup “with aplomb” in 1967. To even qualify from the PCSL was no easy task, Victoria had to fight against clubs like two-time Kennedy Cup winners Vancouver Firefighters and foes Vancouver Columbus. O’Keefe’s coach Frank Greely recalls that the competition was stiff, but “these were intelligent, smart players. I always believed in attacking soccer, and sometimes I almost enjoyed so much what I was watching with this group that I forgot that I was coaching.” According to the Victoria HOF article, O’Keefe’s won 19 of 21 matches in their league and went on to host the Kennedy Cup – however, it was on Vancouver Island, instead of on the mainland in Vancouver, and they packed their stadium with only interested locals. They beat Los Angeles FC 3-1 in the Semis and then hosted the finals, shocking a visiting Mexican Best XI in front of 6,000 fans. Sadly, they would be the last winners of the cup for more than 20 years—the competition was shuttered at the end of the 1967 tournament.
Not coincidentally, the NASL was formed the following year, which served as a national soccer league in the United States and not too long afterwards, in 1973, Vancouver Whitecaps, from British Columbia in Canada joined – becoming the main soccer attraction in British Columbia and effectively starving the PCSL of fans and revenue. The city leagues merged to survive and it wouldn’t be until 1989, after the PCSL restructured again, that the Kennedy Cup would make a glorious return. Vancouver Columbus, one of the region’s most dominant sides of that era, added the JF Kennedy Cup to their very full trophy cabinet. Having been formed in 1953 as Sacred Heart, they changed to Columbus in 1957 and by by 1964 won a national title; PCSL title in ’68; the Province Cup and the Canadian Challenge Trophy—they would have won the Kennedy Cup that year too, had it not been shut down.
Columbus was one of the few local sides to survive the NASL era of the 1970s and early ‘80s; by 1989, they had outlived the flashy national soccer era, joined the restructured PCSL and won both the league and Kennedy Cup Tournament. However, according to Jason Beck, Curator and Facility Director at the BC Sports Hall of Fame, The Kennedy Cup, last won by Victoria O’Keefe in 1967, had not actually been in a trophy cabinet after all. “As last winners, they were never required to return the trophy,” Beck says. “Dave told me the trophy remained in his garage in Victoria for several decades before he decided to donate it to our hall, where people could see and appreciate it.” Dave Stothard, captain of the cup winning O’Keefe’s in 1967, handed over the cup, measuring five feet tall, to the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 2009 and the competition was reborn with a new trophy.
(Left) The J F Kennedy Cup, Retired in 1967. (Right) The Kennedy Cup, Revived in 1989—but has not been seen since 2015.
The competition would go on to be dominated by Washingtonian teams like four-time winners FTI Seattle and legendary four-time winners Seattle Hibernian & Caledonian Saints. Hibs-Caley Saints, originally formed in 1990 as Transients Football Club, started accumulating silverware right away and have won very nearly everything an amateur side could win during their era—indoor, outdoor, local, state, and regional competitions; including their first Kennedy Cup in 1995, and three more after that, in ’97, 98’ and 2001. David Falk of GoalWa.net says “they were an authentic football club in a time when soccer in Seattle was marked by the pre-MLS United Soccer Leagues’ Seattle Sounders. They were talented male and female amateurs who, by their play, represented an era of soccer in our region.” Seattle’s Hibs-Caley Saints eventually went on to add the 2005 USASA National title to their list of accomplishments.
Vancouver United, long-since having dropped the O’Keefe portion of its surname, returned to dominate the PCSL and would win the renewed Kennedy Cup competition four more times; 1996, 2002, 2004 and 2005. United, who won their first cup in 1967, were formed in 1904 as part of a merger between Victoria Association Football Club and Victoria Capitals—when the club dissolved in 2014, it left a legacy as one of the oldest sporting organizations in North American History. Another couple of clubs in British Columbia won the trophy, Vancouver Explorers and Surrey United—it wasn’t until 2003 when an Oregonian team finally won the competition, Kells Swoosh FC. Just two years later the Kennedy Cup would discontinue again.
The J F Kennedy Cup Competition has been on-again, off-again since then; however, as does happen, the modern era has been dominated by one side, IPSFC/Marathon Taverna. The team from Portland, who most recently made a deep run into the US Open Cup qualifiers and won the Oregon Premier Soccer League’s 2018 Fall title in some style, won their first JFK Cup in 2010. They won again in 2012, then back-to-back in 2014 and 2015. Sadly, the John F Kennedy Cup seems to have been scuppered once again. “Unfortunately, since 2016, we have been unable to find teams from the US to compete in a Kennedy Cup Tournament,” David Collard, President of the modern Pacific Coast Soccer League says. “The PCSL would be happy to host a JFK Cup Tournament in 2020.”
John F Kennedy’s sporting legacy, the Kennedy Cup, may be on yet another hiatus, but the sport’s popularity is at a fever pitch on the West Coast. There’s no way soccer fans, clubs, and players don’t revive this competition once again. There are already new teams which didn’t exist just a few years ago when the Cup itself disappeared—surely once it shows up in the hands of PCSL once again, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon can continue its pursuit of the longest running regional competition in the Pacific Northwest.
- Joshua Duder
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