A QUICK STUDY : LeTellier, Head of the '94 World Cup, Learned His Soccer From Ground Up

Times Staff Writer

It's an odd sort of office, really. At first glance, it seems almost under-furnished. Then, little details come into focus.

There are, for instance, the four baseballs resting on a corner of the oversized desk. One has been autographed by Peter Ueberroth; a second was a gift from Bowie Kuhn and bears his signature.

"Another one I caught on opening day at Dodger Stadium in 1984," Scott LeTellier says, smiling. "And that one was signed by the Milwaukee Braves after they won the World Series in 1957."

On a wall opposite the desk hangs a print by Ernie Barnes, an official artist of the Los Angeles Olympics and a former pro football player. A dynamic work, full of movement and intensity, it shows two basketball players.

"These guys (in the print) are just playing one on one with the old peach basket and with the Coliseum in the background," LeTellier explains. "They're rather oblivious to what's going on in the Olympics. They're just interested in the sport."

Nearby on the same wall is another print, this one juxtaposing an athlete from ancient Greece with one from today. Between those two prints, the wall is blank.

"That gaping hole in the middle is waiting for (a picture) that's being framed," LeTellier says. "It's 'Italy '90,' the official poster of the 1990 World Cup."

And it is here that you pause and wonder. What is a successful Newport Beach attorney doing with--of all things--a piece of soccer art on his office wall?

Then you look around a bit more and notice the official plate from the 1982 World Cup in Spain, the official report from the 1974 World Cup in West Germany, the scale model of the World Cup trophy itself.

LeTellier is obviously serious about soccer.

And so you talk to him and explore the twists in the road that turned a prep basketball player from Milwaukee into a tennis champion at the University of Tennessee, earned him a doctorate at Brigham Young, made him a sought-after expert in corporate and securities law, and led to positions as vice president and in-house legal counsel for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee.

And, of course, there is the most recent and perhaps the most far-reaching twist of all.

Little more than two months ago, on Feb. 20, the 38-year-old LeTellier was named president and chief operating officer of the World Cup '94 Organizing Committee, Inc. As such, he is charged with making sure that the 1994 event in the United States is equal to or better than any World Cup that has come before.

In short, it's his ballgame.

This, then, is the story of the education and evolution of an American soccer fan. Or, rather, soccer convert.

As recently as 15 years ago, LeTellier admitted, he would not have recognized a soccer ball had he tripped over one.

The son of a doctor, he was born in Milwaukee on Feb. 5, 1951, not too many months after the 1950 World Cup had ended in Brazil. That, alone, brought a wry remark from LeTellier.

"I figure I'm about the oldest living American who was not alive when the United States last played in a World Cup match," he said. "There aren't too many Americans older than I am who have waited longer for what we hope will happen in 1990 and what assuredly will happen in 1994."

There was no soccer exposure for LeTellier when he was a youngster. Although his mother's side of the family is second-generation German, his father's side came from France in the mid 1700s and is thoroughly American.

As a result, he was not exposed to Milwaukee's ethnic soccer leagues, and the high school he attended in suburban Wauwatosa did not have a soccer team.

"I was a basketball and tennis player in my high school days," he said, then recalled one outing that involved soccer.

"When I was in high school, a Sunday school class went to a game at Milwaukee County Stadium that featured two English teams that were touring. We had no explanation of the rules, no understanding of what was going on. It was just a disaster."

He chose to major in statistics at Tennessee, where his tennis prowess earned him the scholarship that would have been Roscoe Tanner's had the future U.S. Davis Cup player not changed his mind and gone to Stanford. LeTellier lettered in tennis for four years, was captain of the varsity team for two years and, in 1971, won both the Wisconsin and Tennessee men's open doubles titles.

The next year, he set out on a fateful two-year mission to southern West Germany for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It changed his life dramatically.

Anyone who was in West Germany in 1974 could not possibly have ignored soccer. It was a World Cup year.

"I'd spent most of the time regretting that there was no baseball or basketball and that I was missing all the sports I was accustomed to," LeTellier said. "I finally decided that with the World Cup being there, it made some sense to spend some time learning about it."

His instructor was a 12-year-old with a passion for the sport.

"He used to come in with lists of the members of the West German national team and of the teams that were in the Bundesliga (West Germany's major league)," LeTellier recalled. "He'd explain the difference between the Cup Winners Cup and the European Cup and the UEFA Cup and all of the other cups that were going on.

"For an American, it was rather bewildering, the relegation system, how the teams were selected and so on.

"Then I started reading Kicker magazine. My German was good enough to do that quite easily at that point. By the time the World Cup actually came, I saw as many games as I could, and every game that West Germany participated in. I became a devotee."

What was it about soccer that turned LeTellier into a fan?

"One, I think, was the nationalism portion of it, seeing the national anthems played before a game and realizing that, unlike a Yankees-Dodgers World Series . . . you had teams playing that genuinely represented different cultures," he said.

"There seemed to be an ability to take every stereotype that you'd ever had of a particular country and see it played out either in the way (the players) acted on the field or in their style of play or the way their fans carried on. It was just a treat to me from that standpoint.

"Certainly, having never seen a top-quality soccer match prior to that point, the game was intriguing, played at that level. You've got athletes who are incredibly conditioned, and seeing the tactics and the strategy that go into it, for a previously uninitiated individual, it just fascinated me, the whole approach to the game.

"I've since convinced myself that with my size and what limited attributes I have, it was the sport I should have been playing early on. I'm really convinced I would have made a better mark in that sport than any other. Perhaps that's part of the intrigue."

Once the hook was set in West Germany, LeTellier was well and truly landed. Over the next 15 years, he found himself becoming more and more involved in soccer.

He returned to Tennessee to finish work for his bachelor's degree, then enrolled in law school at BYU. There, he was drawn to the soccer team.

"I used to go out and scrimmage with the soccer team at the university," he said. "They had a B team, and the skill level was such that I could actually hold my own."

In the summer of 1977, LeTellier was working as a law clerk in Los Angeles.

"I spent most of that summer watching (Los Angeles) Aztec games and a couple of international games that were played here," he said. "I even flew up to Portland to see Soccer Bowl '77.

While studying for the California State Bar exam in 1978, he followed the progress of the teams on the road to Argentina '78. When the World Cup arrived, it took precedence over everything else for LeTellier.

"I went down on four or five occasions to the (Los Angeles) Sports Arena and watched the games there (on closed-circuit television)," he said.

"I did almost nothing else that summer. I didn't date. I didn't socialize. I really did nothing except study. The only exception was watching the World Cup. I figured I could take the bar exam again in six months, but if I missed the World Cup, it would be four years before the next chance."

And during that period, he also met Gene Edwards, former United States Soccer Federation president, whose office in Milwaukee was just a few blocks from LeTellier's father's office.

Through Edwards' contacts in California, LeTellier became involved in the California Soccer Assn., representing it in several legal matters. By the time of the USSF's annual general meeting at the Meadowlands in 1979, LeTellier's voice was beginning to be heard on the national level.

Before that, though, he had returned to Europe for a few more lessons in the ways of international soccer.

"After I took the bar exam in '78, I went to Europe and just bounced around for about four months over there," he said. "It happened to be at the same time the Cosmos were on that celebrated tour.

"They played a match (in London) against Chelsea where (former Dutch World Cup star Johann) Cruyff had joined the team as a guest player. I was at that match. I was at the (Franz) Beckenbauer homecoming match in Munich against Bayern Munich where the Cosmos lost, 7-1, and Gerd Mueller had scored three goals by halftime.

"I spent a lot of time over there seeing different matches and just getting a feel for the game and how it was played in Europe."

Three years of law practice followed, and then LeTellier took a leave of absence to accept a position with the LAOOC in 1981. Although his name was not widely publicized, it is LeTellier who deserves much of the credit for the success of the '84 Olympic soccer tournament.

With more than 1.4 million spectators, soccer again was the top Olympic draw, and that helped convince the Federation Internationale de Football Assns. (FIFA) that the U.S. could successfully stage a World Cup.

The experience LeTellier gained with the LAOOC, and the contacts he made with FIFA during that time, prepared and positioned him for the job he now has been given.

Having continued to work for the USSF both in a legal capacity and as chairman of various committees, he kept up a close working relationship with Werner Fricker, current USSF president, especially while preparing the U.S. World Cup bid, whose structure, language and drafting were largely LeTellier's doing.

It was not altogether a surprise, therefore, when Fricker contacted him and asked him to take the position, although he did not seek it.

"I had thought back in '84 that if there was ever a sports position worth being involved in, the only thing that could rival the Olympic Games was the World Cup," he said.

The difficult task of trying to rebuild his law practice after the '84 Olympics convinced LeTellier that he would be quite content serving as the committee's legal counsel and not worrying about any higher aspirations for the time being.

"Originally, I thought that if the World Cup came (to the U.S.) in 2002 or 2006--this was my '84 thinking--that I'd have had long enough to build a law practice, that by then it would not be financially difficult to leave the practice and go do something like that," he said.

"I'd also been thinking that if it came in '94, they were not going to give the No. 1 operational position to someone 38 years old. I thought there might be a more senior person come in.

"But I hadn't really given it much thought . . . until Werner came out and asked me to accept the position."

Now that he has accepted it, he and his wife Sherry and their four children are preparing for a June move from their home in Irvine to Washington, D.C., where the World Cup '94 headquarters have been established.

With the 1990 World Cup in Italy only 13 months away and with the soccer world certain to turn its attention to the United States immediately after the July 8 final next year, LeTellier can already sense the tempo increasing.

It is typical of his character, though, that he seems totally at ease with the challenges that lie ahead. Competent and confident, he is also warm and personable, with a quick sense of humor that is often self-deprecatory.

"Anytime you have a chance to work on something that's been a passion with you for some time, it's exciting," he said.

"I'm an organizer at heart. I really enjoy the challenge of organizing things and making sense out of things. To be able to combine that with a sports undertaking is a great opportunity.

"Soccer, of all the sports, is certainly the most widespread in its appeal across all nations and all continents. Whereas many of our traditional American sports now are going in the direction of moving into international markets, we have the opposite challenge of taking a sport that already has a well-established international appeal and creating that appeal in the United States.

"I think it's an intriguing opportunity. It brings a lot of talents to bear that I like to think I possess and the experience that I've developed in my professional career. I'm really very excited about it."

One last note. If anyone doubts LeTellier's wholehearted commitment to soccer, this should lay those doubts to rest:

Before the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, Sherry was expecting, and LeTellier, half-jokingly, suggested that they name the baby after a French soccer star--Dominique if it was a girl, Rocheteau if it was a boy.

The rest of the family rebelled, but LeTellier won at least a partial victory. Soon, his neighbors in Washington will be able to hear him calling:

"Here, Rocheteau. Here, boy. There's a good dog."

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