It all started some thirty-one years ago by the then Mayor, John Fowler. He had heard about the South Jersey Soccer League through his many contacts and began a search for someone to bring it to reality in Berlin Township.
He found such a man with a desire to introduce soccer to the American youth. "Pop" Birkenhauer was such an individual. His background in Hungary and with the German-Hungarians in Philadelphia was all that was needed to begin our program. "Pop" brought along his son; Henry Birkenhauer IV, to help organized and administer the program. Henry brought in his son, Hank Birkenhauer V, as a player. And Hank now has his son Hank Birkenhauer VI as a player. It is great to see the four generations have kept the tradition going.
Ben Christensen, of Danish origin, also joined the others to get the first season underway. Ben coached and prepared the fields for play each week.
The last to join this first year program was Jim Law. Jim brought his son Brian in as a six year old player on an under eight year old team. Brian is now coaching his son, Daulton, in the under ten bracket. This family has been involved with the program for every one of the thirty-one years.
The first year we had three teams. Each team was co-ed since there were not the numbers or desire to have separate teams for boys and girls. That has all changed today. We now have both.
The original field was the Luke Avenue Complex. We played there for some twenty-eight years before moving to Edgewood Avenue. There was something special about Luke Avenue. It had no water, toilet facilities or snack bar. We had an old blue truck that served as a snack bar. The truck had only one forward gear but it served it purpose. What made it special --was it was our first field.
In 1982 we took three teams to Orangeville, Canada for a friendly tournament. It was a cold, wet and windy experience. The players had a great time anyway.
The following year we hosted four teams from Orangeville. We got even with the weatherit was 95 plus degrees for every game. We also found out a lot about our merchants in Berlin and Berlin Township. They donated ice, soda, water and facilities for all. Marlton Lakes let us use their beach for an afternoon party. The old string band hall donated their facility for a dinner dance with our Canadian friends.
Times have really changed in the past thirty-one years. We now have a first class facility at Edgewood Avenue. The fields are excellent, the snack bar is modern and there are toilet facilities.
The BTAA soccer program has grown quite a bit. There are now teams playing in the normal South Jersey Soccer League, South Jersey Girls Soccer League and teams playing indoor soccer at nearby facilities. Annually we have teams involved in many tournaments in South Jersey.
Three years ago the PeeWee program started. Our youth ages four to seven are part of an instructional program. This is an excellent concept. The coaches are to be commended for keeping it purely instructional. Most times these games have a certified USSF referee donating his time to help the kids. Yes, he blows his whistle for fouls but explains to the players why the whistle has blown. Oh, and those dreaded faulty throw-ins. The referee allows a second and third chance with the throw-in. Sometime he can be heard telling the little ones he might have to step on both their feet to keep them on the ground while doing a throw-in. It works! In the three years of this concept there has been not one argument between coaches, not one disagreement with the referee and not many times the players remember the final score because no one talks about winning or losing.
One of the original families in the PeeWee program is the Williams family. Gregg (yes, with two G’s) and Mary are always there to do their important part with the kids. Gregg was the first eight-year-old captain way back when.
Honors and awards: At one time we were the feeder program for Edgewood High School. Eight of the eleven starters were part of their conference championship team. After awhile BTAA began to be the feeder program for Overbrook. Again, with nine of the eleven starters from BTAA, they lead the team to a conference championship. One of our players, Colin Law, went on to a very rewarding career at Rutgers-Camden. He was a two year Captain, team Most Valuable Player, The Jack Carty Most Courageous Athlete and Rutgers Scholar Athlete of the Year his senior year.
Many of our players have earned distinctions in their high school careers. Some were “All Conference” while others earned “All Group” honors. Along with these honors came some athletic college scholarships for soccer.
In all, Berlin Township Athletic Association Soccer has produced players for Edgewood, Overbrook, Eastern, Camden Catholic, Cherokee, St. Joseph’s and Paul VI. This small program has helped many and can be proud of what it has done over the years. Thanks to you John Fowler for starting our young men and ladies in this direction.