Photo by Elizabeth Dranitzke

Larry Kaufer

Larry Kaufer was one of four men awarded the Capitol Hill Community Foundation's Spark Award in 2016. He got involved just as Soccer on the Hill was evolving into Sports on the Hill.

Despite describing himself as a person who never saw a ball he didn't like, his main contribution to the program has been management. At the time he received the Spark Award in 2016, he was President, Registrar and Webmaster.

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Interview Date
February 23, 2016
Stephanie Deutsch
Louise Fenner

Full Directory

[In 2016, the Capitol Hill Community Foundation initiated the Steve Cymrot Spark Award as part of the annual Community Achievement Awards. Group recipients were (from left in the photo): Larry Kaufer, Greg Frane, Patrick Coyne, and Luis Granados. Each was interviewed separately.]

DEUTSCH: This is Stephanie Deutsch. I’m with Larry Kaufer on February 23, 2016. Hi Larry.

KAUFER: How are you doing?

DEUTSCH: Tell me where you grew up and what brought you to Washington.

KAUFER: I’m originally from northwestern Pennsylvania. More small-town rural part.

DEUTSCH: What was the name of the town?

KAUFER: The nearest town was Albion, A-L-B-I-O-N.


KAUFER: From thence to school in Cleveland. I went to Case Institute of Technology and I had an interest in railroads from an early age. My dad worked for a railroad, as did so many people in those days.

DEUTSCH: Uh huh.

KAUFER: And [I] was quite interested in pursuing railroad for work.

DEUTSCH: Um hm. As an engineer?

KAUFER: By engineer do you mean as a scholastic thing or a locomotive engineer?

DEUTSCH: Well, I guess I don’t know.

KAUFER: Ah, OK, OK. See, in the railroad, the driver of the train is not a driver. It’s called an engineer.


KAUFER: Yeah. When you go to Europe or other places it’s a driver. In Russian it’s a makinista, or “the mechanic.” You know, that’s ... [laughs]

KAUFER: But no, my education was in management, management science, and so I worked for a

number of years for railroads around the East and West and so forth. And then came to Washington to

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Larry Kaufer Interview, February 23, 2016

work, essentially consulting. It was a big federal project of reorganizing the bankrupt railroads in the Northeast, which you may or may not have heard of. That resulted in Conrail.

KAUFER: And after that, I’ve done railroad consulting. So in terms of kind of what my day job or work

experience is, that’s kind of the main handhold, so to speak.

In terms of sports, I was always interested in sports. I would classify myself, as [would] many other people, of I never saw a ball that I didn’t like.

KAUFER: Many haven’t heard of it or thought of it that way, but guys particularly [it’s] the same thing:

you get the grin on the face, you know. That’s the idea.DEUTSCH: I’ve raised two sons [unintelligible]!

KAUFER: But due to a medical issue of an injury when I was a kid, I played very little high school sports. And at that point I didn’t participate in very much sports at all because of travel and life and dah dah dah dah dah, until we moved here and married and had kids and one of them was a girl and one was a boy. And with the boy then it was interesting to be a coach and that sort of thing. So that’s basically how I got him started with with Soccer on the Hill in those days. And in those days Greg Frane was kind of the reigning figure of doing everything in the sports. And you’ve talked to Greg I think last night.

DEUTSCH: I talked to Greg last night.
DEUTSCH: So your son, who’s now grown, I assume ...KAUFER: Yup. Yeah, yeah.
DEUTSCH: But you started with him as a coach?KAUFER: Yeah. Yeah.
DEUTSCH: Had you ever played soccer?

KAUFER: When I was a kid I never heard the word “soccer.” In the U.S. in the ’60s and ’70s it was hardly a term. So, no, that started that and then I stayed with that and started to do things like commissionering and ...

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Larry Kaufer Interview, February 23, 2016

DEUTSCH: When you say commissionering ...?
KAUFER: Oh, commissionering in terms of a management, sort of a management structure of that, of

the sports.
DEUTSCH: Which sports?

KAUFER: But in those days it was starting with soccer—or shall we say what was happening here in terms of trying to get meaningful sports for kids, which were pretty thin other than soccer around Capitol Hill or DC in general. And we joined ... For basketball, we did it with the McLean Youth Sports, and they had a very interesting and very healthy model of mostly volunteers, or all volunteers for basketball. And it wasn’t here, so I thought, “Um, I guess it’s time to fill the vacuum,” so ...

DEUTSCH: Was your son interested in basket—he was good at basketball?

KAUFER: Yeah, yeah. He seems to be similarly infected with he never saw a ball he didn’t like. So that’s the main fork in the road in terms of understanding Soccer on the Hill evolving into Sports on the Hill. We sort of use those words a bit interchangeably. But the next sport on was basketball, and since then we’ve grown a number of other sports, as you know.

DEUTSCH: Baseball.

KAUFER: Baseball. Baseball was kind of sputtering as well about this ... I say sputtering, John Parker was doing it in those days. It was a parallel kind of thing, and it was happening and we started to do it. For a few years we sort of absorbed what baseball was going on for five or ten years and then it spun off over to Capitol Hill Little League, which has grown in proportion to the needs in the market for that.

That’s kind of a quick talk through how I got started in that and have continued on, and enjoy sport and enjoy kids and enjoy management. And the combination of all those as a volunteer just seems to be quite an ideal and rewarding way to, shall we say, leverage one’s time, even before you think about value to the community—which I think has probably been significant—but just a positive thing to do. And you get a lot of socialization in. I know, shall we say, lots of people around the Hill, mostly through the kid aspect.

KAUFER: Keeps you current. [chuckles]

DEUTSCH: Well, there’s lots of people who enjoy being with kids, but not so many people who enjoy the management aspect. That seems to me like something ...

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Larry Kaufer Interview, February 23, 2016

KAUFER: Well, the management of that is non-trivial. It’s about in the same category as being a parent, right?


KAUFER: And that is what it is, and it’s necessary. But when I started out, I did coaching, but now I do incidental coaching or emergency coaching or that sort of thing. But, yes, there are rewards and the price for both having kids, and managing sports and kids—and parents. [chuckles]

DEUTSCH: Yes, not Greg Frane, but Patrick [Coyne] talked quite a bit about that.KAUFER: Yup, yup, yup, yup.
DEUTSCH: The parents have high expectations, and of course ...
KAUFER: It’s the Lake Wobegon, you know.

DEUTSCH: That’s exactly what he said. All the kids were above average.
KAUFER: That’s right. That’s right. Well, fortunately not all parents are that way. But it is a reflection

of, shall we say, a piece of the culture of Capitol Hill as it’s evolving.DEUTSCH: So you’re the president of Sports on the Hill.KAUFER: Yeah. Yeah.
DEUTSCH: Are you also the web guy?

KAUFER: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
DEUTSCH: So that’s a big job. I was looking at the ...

KAUFER: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s a bit of a challenge, but it was a healthy thing to learn and it helps keep one with your fingernails out keeping abreast of the IT [information technology] world. [laughs] Which seems to be expanding faster than we can wrap our minds around it as a user.

KAUFER: Things like user manuals. In theory, one should have one but there’s never one that’s ever

DEUTSCH: Right. Right.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Larry Kaufer Interview, February 23, 2016

KAUFER: You have to learn the anecdotal way. Those who are writing the code and offering the devices have decided was a logical way to do it. And if you understand those few sorts of things by hunting and pecking is how most people can begin to learn. Like picking up your phone and the tablets are a little bit similar, and laptops are a little bit similar, and the dropdown menus, and now touch screens—and hard words every so often. [laughs]

DEUTSCH: Some of us don’t find it all quite as intuitive as others.KAUFER: Oh I know, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
DEUTSCH: So you do that. You’re the web ...
KAUFER: Yeah, webmaster. Yeah.

DEUTSCH: How much time does that—I mean, at the beginning of the season that must take some time.

KAUFER: Oh, quite a bit, yeah. The main part is getting it set up and so forth. But in terms of time, as [with] Greg ... I mean this is, shall we say, on a week[ly] basis this is more than a full-time job because it’s every day of the week, with a little bit of slack in the summer time. But other than that, it’s fall, winter and spring. There’s stuff going on most every day of the week that we’re managing or arranging or supporting, etcetera etcetera.

DEUTSCH: And how often do you get together with ... Do you and Greg and Patrick and Luis get together often?

KAUFER: Oh, I talk to Greg at least daily, if not more than daily, because he handles the main bulk of the logistic sides of the equipment and fields, fields and fields permits. So he and I are always—always talking. And Luis’s function, now he’s now a coach and he’s kind of like a commissioner or [unintelligible] Friendship League, but I see him or talk to him at least once or twice a week. Patrick more often on Saturdays when he’s in session, and occasionally by email. Emails are the IT quick-and-dirty way to talk. [chuckles] Talking is always better, but we can’t always budget it in.

DEUTSCH: Patrick was telling me that there are just huge numbers of kids in that under-6 group that he deals with.

DEUTSCH: It’s such a change.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Larry Kaufer Interview, February 23, 2016

KAUFER: Yeah. Oh yeah, he’s got at least 50 or more on his Saturdays. And we have that which is not so visible but that’s a U-6. We also do a U-5 and U-4 over at Providence Park, which has an equivalent number of ... lots of kids. Still with parents. I use that as just kind of a ...

DEUTSCH: The parents have to stay?

KAUFER: At that age they need to stay. Up till about U-6 they mostly understand that. Because we’re not babysitting. I mean that’s not it, everybody understands that sort of thing. But when you get to essentially U-7, U-8, a number of kids ... A number of parents continue to come or at least come to games. And then of course it tails off too. They drop their kids for practice and pick them up after practice, or [are] late for picking them up after practice—but that’s ... [chuckles] That sort of thing.

DEUTSCH: Do you have some favorite memories of Soccer on the Hill?

KAUFER: No, not ... There’s tons of memories of incidences and etcetera, etcetera. ... Ought to get together with John Parker too ... there is dogs on the field with kids, and leash, bites, and peeing on your foot, and ...

DEUTSCH: Ooo, ooo, ooo. [laughs]
KAUFER: [laughs] There are real, we all have experiences of having that happen.
DEUTSCH: Never thought about that.
KAUFER: Yup, yup. “My dog never bit anybody.” [Two sentences removed to protect privacy.]

KAUFER: Yeah, OK. [laughs] But from our perspective of safety of kids—and the kids are scared of them, not to mention the feces and the urine—is that parents will let their dogs do things they wouldn’t let their kids do. I’m not disparaging it, just, this is the world. When you go to India you see the world, right? We have it here, but nowhere like there, or whatever—you know what I mean.

DEUTSCH: Are you still employed, or are you retired?
KAUFER: Not employed as a classic day job. I still do a little bit of railroad-related consulting.DEUTSCH: Consulting?
DEUTSCH: Have your kids stuck with sports? Is your son ...

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Larry Kaufer Interview, February 23, 2016

KAUFER: Yeah, he plays soccer quite regularly. And that’s one of the values of soccer—from the beginning, one can run around after a ball and say you’re playing soccer.

DEUTSCH: Uh huh.

KAUFER: Not quite the same for baseball or even basketball, where you need a bit more skills of things. But there is now enough around the U.S. that the pickup aspect, and even the social—I can’t say semi- pro—but social soccer is very, very strong around Washington. Starting with the 80s or so it started to really kick in, and by now those people are in their 20s and 30s, and many of them are parents, which is helpful because that starts to be our source of coaches. Not just a parent who says, “Well, I’ve never played it before.”

DEUTSCH: Now you have parents who have played soccer.
KAUFER: You can tell it, you know, that they’ve played it before and they’re interested in teaching.DEUTSCH: Yeah, it was a very new thing.
DEUTSCH: The generation of our kids, it was a new thing. We never played soccer when we were kids.KAUFER: Never even heard the word.
KAUFER: Literally never even heard the word. [chuckles]