Socker Telethon Exceeds Goal for Season-Ticket Deposits

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Juli Veee was there. So too was Jean Willrich. Two players who were with the Sockers when they first began their string of nine championships showed up at a season-ticket telethon at the Cox Cable studios to help secure a possible future for both the team and the sport they helped build.

They won't get a ring for this one, but they and several current players came up with what could turn out to be the club's most important victory.

Collected were upward of 3,900 season-ticket deposits. The goal was 3,500.

Now they will have to sit tight through the weekend to see if it means anything.

Still unsecured is a majority owner for next season. But there is news on that front, too.

Earl Foreman, MSL commissioner, was in San Diego on Thursday and met with two prospective owners. He met with two others on Wednesday.

"All the parties are very interested," he said. "I am very pleased with the meetings. All the people are very capable. But, using basketball vernacular, the ball's in their court."

Foreman could not receive the cablecast telethon at his hotel but waited patiently for the results. When informed of the numbers, he breathed a sigh of relief.

"Oh, that's great," he said. "That's wonderful. That should really help with what we're trying to do."

On June 3, when owner Ron Fowler announced he would fund the team through June 30, but would close shop after that date if a new owner did not step forward, Foreman set a June 15 deadline to shore up the situation.

That is the date all clubs are required to inform their players whether rights of first refusal will be exersized.

Tomorrow is the 15th, but Sockers Coach Ron Newman said the players' union will be asked for a deadline extension so potential owners can do some tire-kicking over the weekend.

Newman is confident the union will approve the request.

"It makes no sense to keep us tied up," he said.

And besides, despite all the doom and gloom, the telethon has created a wave of euphoria on which the Sockers' spirits have hitched a ride.

"Now when it comes to projecting what season ticket sales are going to be," Newman said, "we've got another ace in the hole. This is an added incentive we can use."

If the depositors follow through on their pledges and purchase season tickets, front-office workers project the largest season-ticket base in club history (the record is 4,300 in 1986-87).

"We've still got weeks and weeks and months and months to go," Newman beamed.

Added Randy Bernstein, club vice president, "If the upcoming season does come about, the support we found tonight will turn into huge increases at the gate. We were pleasantly surprised by the soccer fans of San Diego. We knew they were out there, but we didn't know they would support our telethon like they did. The people of San Diego do care about the Sockers and about the sport of indoor soccer."

So, too, it seems do Veee--the club's second-leading scorer and the only Socker to have his jersey number, 22, retired--and Willrich, the team's third all-time scorer.

"I was in Arizona on a Hopi Indian reservation," Veee said. "And as soon as I heard the Sockers needed my help I came back here. It's upsetting that they can let the Sockers slip away. I want my jersey to stay up there, and if the Sockers go out of town, no more jersey."

Like Veee, Willrich appeared to take the possible demise personally.

"I look and I say this is an insult, really. How can a city that is so proud of this franchise that has won so much not come out and support it? 4,000 season tickets should be nothing. It's sad. Guys like Juli and I survived all these years and now all of a sudden it can disappear.

"I wish I had enough money; I would buy the team. . . . It's so tough."

After the telethon, Newman said he is certain an owner will step up.

"If the stock market crashes," he said, "you don't sell. You buy, right? Well, this is the lowest this league can go. There's nowhere to go but up now."

MSL Notes

Wednesday wasn't much of a 41st anniversary for Earl Foreman and his wife, Phyllis. He was in San Diego trying to save the league he began in 1978 and she was home in suburban Baltimore. "It's funny," Earl said. "I spent my 41st anniversary having dinner with Ron Fowler and Ron Cady." . . . Sockers Coach Ron Newman said he was nervous before the telethon. "I woke up with sweaty palms," he said. "I realized the clock was ticking away on us. I was frightened of failure. I always tell the players 'Don't be frightened of failure,' but I was. I thought, 'What happens if the fans don't call?' "

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