Every year, Dietmar Doehring and his teammates are forced to work harder to remain the top soccer team in the nation. It’s the only way to combat the youthful energy of the 65-year-old newcomers they face on the pitch.
Doehring and the Georgia United over65 team won their third consecutive United States Adult Soccer Association’s Veterans Cup in June and received newfound recognition for their achievement in December, when Georgia Governor Nathan deal honored the group at the state capitol for the first time.
Doehring, 69, is a native of Germany but has been a Forsyth County resident since 1975. He plays for and coaches the Georgia United over65, which holds most of its games locally in the metro Atlanta area.
Doehring said last season’s national title victory was the hardest to achieve.
The Georgia United overcame two ties during the national tournament and won the championship game 1-0. The team cruised to an 8-0 victory in the 2011 title game.
"This was the toughest one [to win]," Doehring said. "We’d never had a tie before. It was a cliffhanger to [even] get to the final."
Georgia United has boasted a heavy international flavor since its inception, bringing together men whose passion for soccer began in their respective homelands and sustained over several decades.
In addition to Doehring’s own German heritage, the team has featured American, Dutch, English, Danish, Bermudan, Brazilian, Portuguese, South African, Finnish and Lebanese representation at times.
The majority of the team’s roster lives near Atlanta, with the exception of a few players who reside out of state. Their ages range all the way from 65 up to 76, but numbers can sometimes be misleading.
The squad’s oldest player, 76-year-old John Zonneveld, is one of its best, Doehring said.
"He’s really an exception and he’s good on top of [just being able to play]," Doehring said.
"I don’t think you can even replace him. I don’t know of anyone good enough to replace him."
Doehring is one of only eight players remaining on the United over65 squad from its original championship run in 2010. The player-coach can see his own coaching and playing days winding down, but he would like to lay claim to a fourth national title before he considers reducing his role with the team to make way for "younger" athletes.
"You can’t get better anymore," Doehring said. "You win it four times, it can only get worse.
"You want the younger ones to take over — younger ones meaning 59 or so. I might play on the team in 2014 but let somebody else run the show."
Doehring said he has considered becoming a youth coach in the future or working behind the scenes to give the over65 an international presence.
"What we are trying to do is start an international tournament," Doehring said. "... [We want] to get a Japanese team and a European team [to play here] in September."
For now Doehring is concentrating on assembling the United over65’s 2013 roster. He left for Florida on Thursday to play in an annual tournament that he uses to test out potential new players.
Doehring said it’s often difficult to attract athletes who were once talented college or semi-professional soccer players because their competitive nature makes it difficult for them to accept playing the game at a slower pace.
Doehring is also constantly on the lookout for businesses who want to contribute to the team somehow, but sponsorships, much like elite players, are hard to find.
He has, however, managed to keep a sense of humor about it.
"It’s tough to get sponsorships in the age group we’re in," Doehring said. "Somebody [joked] maybe we should contact Geritol."
As in any sport at any age level, injuries occur, but Doehring said the benefits of playing have outweighed the risks for most of the players.
"Most of the guys are not on any medications," Doehring said. "It helps a lot of people to be involved in some physical [activity].
"It’s more than just kicking a ball. There are friendships that develop, [too]."
For more information about becoming a member or sponsoring the Georgia United soccer team, call Dietmar Doehring at (770) 887-1242 or (678) 687-3671.