Oral history interview conducted by Juan Fonseca. Story curated by Marisela Hernandez.
I didn’t know what soccer was actually. I was coming home from school one day and saw a poster on the wall that they were having tryouts. I told my mom that I wanted to try out. So she brought me back up there, filled out the paperwork, and I went. That was when my brother Keith Earl and I discovered soccer. We played for the soccer team at Wolters Elementary. I was on the C-team in under-10 soccer, playing goalie of all positions. There was one game where our team was losing, so our coach decided to put me out onto the field for the first time. When I got onto the field, I scored about 5 goals. After that, I never went back to goalie. The ironic thing about that game is that the A-team coach, Chuck Power, was there watching me. He and his son came up to me after the game and asked if I wanted to play on the A-team. His son, Scotty Power, ended up being my best friend growing up, and his father was my coach for the next 8 years. It just all ended up working out that way.
I was born in Austin, Texas on June 24, 1967. We moved to Fresno when I was in the third grade. My mom brought me and my brother Keith Earl out here from Austin. She had sisters here, so we settled, and ended up staying in Fresno. I grew up in the Hoover area. I went to Wolters Elementary, Ahwahnee Middle School, and then Hoover High School. Back then, the two-block radius around the apartments I lived in was called “Sin City”. It was mostly white, sprinkled in with African Americans and Hispanics back in the early 1980s. It was a really good melting pot for low-income families at the time. It was just me, my mom, and my brother and we did the best that we could living in a low-income area. Sports kept us out of trouble, and we hung out with the right people. Plus, we always had something going on with sports.
Growing up, I never really felt like I was being discriminated against, and if I was it was from afar. I encountered racism when I went across town for games. We played against other teams who had more black and Hispanic players. They had animosity towards me because of where I lived and grew up. But as we got older, we befriended each other. Through sports, we were the same, and going to this or that school didn’t mean anything. Other than that, soccer was good.
The years before and after Hoover were good years for our area. We won Valley Champion two out of the three years I played there. Our team was like a dynasty. No one wanted to play Hoover because they knew they were in for something when it was game time. It just happened to fall that way. Our team was mostly white with a few Hispanics. I was usually the only African American on the team for most of my sports in North Fresno. Some of my teammates on the Hoover squad were Steve Biechler, Scott Power, Barry Endler, James Daniels, Rodney Little. Wayne Car, who was murdered in 1993, was my best friend, always telling me what I needed to do right, what I was doing wrong. He always pushing me, supported me. I was strong on the ball if I had it. I had a knack for scoring goals. Sure, I dribbled people, but it takes more than that to score goals. You have to have an anticipation of where they will be a couple of plays before the play. I can do that, and I made it look easy. I graduated from Hoover in 1985. My goal scoring title at Hoover, which is 69 goals in 3 years, still holds to this day.
Every year my brother Keith Earl and I played baseball and soccer. I was really good at baseball too. I made the city-county all-star team, and I even had a tryout for the Kansas City Royals out of high school. But there was something about soccer that just came a little easier, and I was more comfortable with the bond between the soccer players. I went to Fresno City College right after high school. I played one year in 1986 under Coach Bill Neil. But the college life wasn’t a good fit for me, and I was ineligible to play the next year. My scoring title is still untouched there as well.
Then, I started playing in the adult leagues available here from 1987 to 1989. This was when a lot of the adult teams were registered through U.S. soccer, all competing for the Open Cup, the Amateur Cup, and the State Cup. This was also before today’s structure under the MLS came. I played in the San Joaquin Soccer League. We played against many Hispanic teams, but also white and Asian ones. It was really good, high-quality soccer for an adult league. And although the quality today isn’t as it used to be, the community, culture, and lifestyle is there. At the end of the day, it’s a family event. My daughters Taylor and Stacia grew up coming to my adult games, playing on the sidelines, and befriending people. That’s really what I think it’s all about.
Alongside the adult leagues, California also had a state and regional team. It was on the regional team in that I finally got the opportunity to play pro soccer. While on the regional team, we took a trip down to Colorado Springs’ Olympic Development Center. In 1990, one of my teammates from New Mexico had told me they were starting a new league down in New Mexico. I gave him my number, and ended up hearing back from him a few months later. He told me that the league was ready, that he told the coach about me, and wanted to know if I would check it out. I was really excited. I began to do extra training on my own. Then I jumped on a train to Albuquerque and arrived at the training. They had us do a short warm up with some drills, and sent us out to play a game. After playing for about 20 minutes, the coach called me over and asked me if I wanted to be on the team. We did a team photoshoot literally right after for a magazine to announce the newly formed New Mexico Chiles. It all happened that quickly and again, it just worked out that way. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.
While on the Chiles, I was our leading goal scorer. It’s kind of my knack. I’m not at all the best or the fastest player, but I can read the game and know when to finish goals. That got me a long ways. However, I got hurt when I was pro, and this pretty much ended the season for me. I was scoring a header goal against the Santa Barbara team, and the goalie, trying to block it, dove right into my knee. My friends never got to see me play pro in person because of my injury, other than the one time our game was televised on ESPN. I was out for a while, and my coach didn’t want to put me back in. When I finally got back on the field, I was still the Chiles’ leading goal scorer. Leg brace and all.
The New Mexico Chiles was a one year deal in 1990 because that was how long our league, the American Professional Soccer League, lasted. It was mostly a West Coast deal, and we were considered pioneers in it. There were about 6 to 8 teams, including San Francisco, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado. As professionals, we were only paid about $200 to $300 a game, and $50 a practice. All of us had jobs during the day and trained in the afternoons. In public, people were excited to see us because we were professional athletes. That was the cool part. A few years later, the MLS was created. It stuck around, and just got bigger and better every year.
I came back to California after the Chiles and started playing for the Aurora Soccer Club under coach Bob Don. We started doing both personal training and youth camps in Clovis, but I still had the fire to play. A few friends of mine played in Sacramento for an indoor league. And so, I made it on the Sacramento Knights reserve team. I could never, however, make it to the starting line up. I stayed there for one year, and then came back to Fresno.
My coaching career began early on right out of high school. My mom, as referee coordinator, asked me if I wanted to coach and I did. Wilson Elementary was the first team I ever coached. After that was when I left to play for the Chiles. When I came back, a buddy of mine was doing soccer camps in the summer. I decided to do my own, but could only get a few people. During one of my camps, I was invited to host a soccer camp at Dry Creek Elementary. I quickly learned that I needed a name for the camp. One of my buddies suggested I call it “Melly Sport Soccer Camp,” which did have a nice ring to it. Thus, Melly Sport was born.
Later on, I got married and had two daughters, Taylor and Stacia. As they got to the soccer age, I decided I wanted to get back to coaching again. I wanted them to have good training. They were basically groomed to play soccer after years of watching me from the sidelines. So I began coaching their teams at Stonelake Elementary in El Grove. After I came back to Fresno in about 2006, I did club coaching and was able coach my daughters’ teams. My daughters love the game as much as I do. They sure got the full idea of how good their dad was back in the day when we moved back to Fresno.
I had always wanted to own my own facility. I modeled my camps after a good friend of mine, who was also a Hoover and Fresno State player, Tom Gleason. Once he got into indoor soccer, I wanted to go into it as well. I had already been looking into it for years, but it was an expensive thing to take up. For the last 8 to 9 years, futsal had been the new thing going on in Fresno. I didn’t know what it was. I learned futsal helped in the development of the players we see today, like Ronaldo or Neymar. Many grew up playing these games on a small space because they didn’t always have access to a large space of grass to play in. You can get together with 3 or 4 other players, play in small areas, which leads to better foot control. As I looked into futsal and started watching it, I wondered why we weren’t teaching this to our kids here.
From there on, I decided I wanted to get into Futsal rather than starting an indoor facility. I kept up the camps, and was eventually able to get started when I got the means to get started. I looked around for places, and found an outdoor court over at Blackbeards, which was much more easier to rent than an indoor facility. I decided to invest in the flooring and have it leveled out. So, I went ahead and started Melly Sport Futsal. My futsal court is named “Chuck Power Field,” after my closest coach and early on father figure. It is located in Blackbeard’s, and there we run leagues and camps today. We are two years in, and are still waiting to develop fully. We are trying to get the word out on futsal because not many really know the value of it. I go to parks around town and explain what futsal is because many are reluctant to cross the barrier into it. Many believe it is competitive, but it’s really developmental. It is a fast moving game that takes skill. If you want to play more of the real game of soccer, you will want to play futsal.
The official name of the futsal league is Melly Sport Futsal. Teams come from Hanford, Sanger, Fresno, Visalia, and the Madera Ranchos. Alongside Melly Sport Futsal, I started a semi-pro adult team, “The 99 Boys” in 2017. We have played in Reno and in the U.S. National Futsal Tournament down in San Jose. The best games I’ve seen with the 99 Boys are against teams like the San Francisco Bay Area Futsal Club and El Negro of Reno because it is at a high quality level of futsal.
Through soccer nowadays, I give back to the community. One of the beauties of soccer is being a coach. I get the same respect I have for all of my coaches from all the kids I have coached. I remember my coaches being there for us, and that’s your job as a coach to stand beside your players. Soccer has allowed me to be a mentor to so many players. People like myself will continue to do it because it comes easy and natural. It is part of our personality and is just what we do. It gives you both a social atmosphere and a sense of pride. It really means something to be a coach. There is a certain level of respect you get from teaching someone else.
Soccer has been my everything. My whole identity is soccer. Everything I’m about is related to soccer. Everyone I know references me to soccer. For anyone who says Mel, the next thing they say is “Oh the Mel that plays soccer.” They go hand in hand. I can’t imagine my name without soccer being apart of it. There is nothing about me that’s me without soccer. It’s what I do. Soccer is everything, and that has never changed for me.
Soccer was my first love. I hadn’t played soccer before the third grade, but I was athletic. I started off playing goalie. It was at that first or second game where our team was losing, and my coach took me out of the goal and onto the field. I scored a bunch of goals, and we caught up and won. That was it. My whole life changed that day.
This essay is part of Fresno State’s new public history project, “The Other Football: Tracing the Game’s Roots and Routes in the San Joaquin Valley”. You can help us document the history of soccer in the valley by donating photographs and doing an oral history with our faculty and students. For more information contact Prof. Romeo Guzman at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Twitter and Instagram at historiapublica
Juan Fonseca is a History major at Fresno State and has been involved with The Other Football (including its futsal team), since its inception. He is from Kerman.
Marisela Hernandez is a History major and Music minor at Fresno State. She plays guitar and collects records in her free time. She also studies classical guitar through the music department. She hopes to combine both music and history in her future career as a historian someday.