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Still Doing the Legwork : Soccer: Founder of Valley’s first pro team using entrepreneurial vision to push the sport.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jack Young waits for Mickey Rooney to arrive for lunch at a popular Westlake Village restaurant. Young, 61, wants to take a trip down memory lane with the former child star.

Back in 1948, when Rooney played a kid boxer in the movie “Killer McCoy,” Young was a kid boxer, an 18-year-old featherweight in Portland, Me. To promote the film, “Killer McCoy Boxing Tournaments” were held all over the country. At a tournament in his hometown, Young was voted outstanding boxer.

The trophy he received was crowned with a statuette of Rooney in the classic boxer’s stance. But the trophy wasn’t one of those hollowed-out cheapies--it’s made of bronze or brass and must weigh five pounds. Young carries it in a leather briefcase. He’s going to make a point of telling Rooney about the quality of the trophy, if the Mick ever shows up.

It’s not as though Young actually has an appointment with Rooney. Young, who lives in Thousand Oaks, is just hoping to run into him. About a year ago, he heard that Rooney also lives in the area and frequently eats at the restaurant. But lugging the trophy from home on the chance that Rooney would be there is something he doesn’t ordinarily do. It’s just that he was going to be in the neighborhood anyway.

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“I’ve got 30 or so boxing trophies at home, but Mickey’s is special,” Young says. “Winning it was a major thing in my life. I wanted to share the moment with Mickey.”

Young, who has a white walrus mustache and thick silver hair, is wearing a gray pin-striped suit and red silk tie. A gregarious Irishman, he hopes to strike up a quick camaraderie with the actor and then describe his own exploits over the past 42 years. Rooney no doubt would love to be brought up to date.

When Rooney and Young were kids, they both had flame-colored hair, and Young was known as “Red.” Like Rooney, he was small, but despite standing only 5-foot-6, Young was a versatile high school athlete, playing varsity football and winning local Golden Gloves titles.

While still a senior, Young, son of a sea captain, became a pro boxer. His first pro fight was on the undercard of a Willie Pep bout. Young says he scored 23 wins in 24 pro fights before quitting because of a broken eardrum. After serving in the Army during the Korean War, he worked in marketing for a Fresno TV station and also promoted fights, including a Sugar Ray Robinson bout in Lewiston, Me.

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Rooney and countless others probably don’t remember Young, but he’s best remembered around here as the owner of the Valley’s first and only championship pro team in a major sport. In 1976, Young owned the American Soccer League’s Los Angeles Skyhawks, who played at Birmingham High. Their place in history was assured when they won the league title their first year, prompting this two-line banner headline in the Valley News: “Wow, 9,379 Cheer as Skyhawks Defeat Apollos.”

A self-described “entrepreneur” who says he has made and lost fortunes in real estate, Young got involved in soccer because of his children. In the early ‘70s, his three children--two boys and a girl--all played soccer. The eldest, Peter, was a high-scoring forward who made the Parade magazine high school All-American team when he was at Newbury Park High. To help his kids, Young went to libraries to study up on the game.

“That got me looking into soccer,” he says. Young was intrigued by the seemingly bright prospects for soccer’s ascension as a major sport. “Then one day I read in The Times that Bob Cousy had been made commissioner of the ASL and the league was going to expand nationally,” he says. That set him in motion.

It took him a month of flying coast to coast with projections and proposals to get the ASL to put him in charge of the league’s marketing and expansion on the West Coast. Young set up franchises in five California cities and bought the L. A. franchise for himself. His first move was to hire Coach Ron Newman away from Lamar Hunt’s Dallas Tornado of the North American Soccer League.

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After two seasons, Young sold the Skyhawks to Nordskog Industries and formed another team, the Southern California Lazers, who played their home games at El Camino College in Torrance. But after only one season, the Lazers and Young were out of business. The league went on for another year before folding. On the pro level, soccer’s promise was not fulfilled, and Young lost a lot of money.

“There’s more kids playing soccer than any sport in the country, but their parents aren’t into it because they haven’t grown up with the sport,” says Young, who still holds out high hopes for soccer. “There is a good chance that soccer will make it when this generation of kids who’ve played the game have children of their own,” he says. “They’ll have something to talk about at dinner.”

Young’s fortunes have taken a dip on the soccer roller coaster but he hopes to catch a peak in the next few years. The soccer community believes that this summer’s World Cup--which will mark the first tournament appearance by the United States in 40 years--will raise America’s awareness of soccer, and that the 1994 tournament, held in this country for the first time, will put the sport over the top. If it happens, Young will be ready.

For the past few years, Young has been developing an idea for a family entertainment show, sort of the Harlem Globetrotters of soccer. By this summer, he says, he will be ready to test the waters in California by sending out two teams, High Goals and Sure Shots, to play each other in scripted indoor soccer games with an anti-drug message. His eventual goal is a worldwide tour and national television exposure.

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“I’ve put my heart and soul into this,” says Young, who admits that skeptics will see his idea as a pipe dream. “But entrepreneurs are dreamers by nature,” he says. “They believe in the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”

Entrepreneurs are also fighters. In the ring, Young was a relentless puncher, he says, and in business, he’s the same way. “Persistence,” he says, “is a major element that separates the men from the boys when it comes to being an entrepreneur.”

Now, many pounds over fighting weight, he paces the restaurant lobby hoping to see Rooney walk in, but it doesn’t happen. After a few minutes, Young takes his trophy and goes home, but he remains undaunted. As every entrepreneur knows, there’s always another day.


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