Former Olympian Dick Packer is known locally for the standout soccer camp he founded. We caught up with the Rowayton resident between seasons to talk sports.
Why did you start a soccer camp? I founded Packer Soccer Camp in 1978 with Peter Gogolak of Darien. When we got the idea, the North American Soccer League was bringing in big names and forming the New York Cosmos, but there were no grassroots programs. We thought we’d start a camp to feed the professional teams.
Did you think it would run for thirty-four years? Never. But the interest in soccer among the kids is still strong today, and it seems to be growing. It’s the best sport for young children because it’s very forgiving. If you make a mistake you won’t be humiliated. It’s not like baseball, where when a ball goes through a player’s legs the whole stadium sees it.
When did you start playing soccer? I was six. There were no camps back when I was a boy, but my father, who was a doctor in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, sent us to schools where the predominant sport was soccer. That was unusual in those days.
When did you get onto the Olympic track? I tried out when I was fifteen, but didn’t make it. Four years later, when I was at Penn State, they asked me to try out again, for the 1956 Melbourne Summer Olympics. I was one of sixteen on the team. I played outside right.
What was your best game? The last game of the season in my senior year at Penn State in 1955. I was one goal shy of tying the school’s single-season record, which was twenty-three. We were playing Pittsburgh in a blinding snowstorm. Despite attempts to shovel the field, there were still seven inches on the ground. Nevertheless, I got two goals and broke the record. My record still stands today.
What’s your fondest soccer memory? Walking into the Olympic stadium in Melbourne was an experience I’ll never forget. The same is true for the time I was invited to carry the Olympic torch from Westport to Norwalk in 1996 for the Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
Have any Packer campers gone pro? Kristine Lilly was with us. She was a member of the United States Women’s National Soccer Team for twenty-four years.
Do you still play soccer? No, my knees can’t take the shock of kicking the ball anymore, but I play tennis and platform tennis.
Who are your soccer heros? Pelé. When I was still playing I admired him the most.
What’s your advice to kids who want to go pro someday? I encourage them because it’s a wonderful life. You can play until your mid-thirties, and soccer will open doors for you all over the world.
We’re told a portion of proceeds from the Packer summer camps benefits one of your favorite charities. Yes, Haiti Lumiere de Demain (HLD) provides textbooks and solar-powered flashlights to children in Haiti. Luis Elneus, the founder of the organization, has been coaching at the camp for years. He wants to make a better life for the people in Haiti and believes the best way to do so is through education, so he founded HLD.