Tracing the Roots, the History and the Legend of the Seahorses
“The Foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom…”
If you ask Seahorse founder Dave Irby where the idea came from for the Missionary Athletes International Seahorse soccer team, he likes to say “it came from the first chapter of Corinthians, more specifically verse 25.”
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”
One of the pioneers of the “soccer ministry” movement Irby goes on to say “if God can use a ‘cone’ like me to minister around the world for him, he can also use a Seahorse.
Irby grew up in Anaheim, California in an era before cell phones and laptop tops, before “soccer moms”, when soccer was still on the fringe of “the mainstream” in the United States and the US National Soccer team (in a time when there was virtually no women’s soccer) was chosen “alphabetically” by a committee that had not seen many of the players even play.
Even when Seahorse founder Dave Irby, first played soccer on the first soccer team at Azusa Pacific College, “it was still a time when people thought you had to be ‘crazy’ to be a goalkeeper.”
“So it is only fitting that it was a goalkeeper who thought that “Seahorses” would make a good name for a soccer team, a name that later Irby would use for the first Missionary Athletes International soccer team.
As Irby likes to say “it was truly the ‘foolishness of God’ that brought about the founding of the Seahorse team back in 1985.
It was a sideline encounter between Azusa Pacific Men’s Soccer Coach Dave Irby and Biola University Soccer Coach Tim Conrad that began a relationship that would eventually lead to the founding of the Southern California Seahorse Soccer Team. Irby had taken his Azusa Pacific Soccer team to Mexicali to the men’s and boys’ team over spring break and during the summer Conrad had taken his second Sports Ambassadors, Christian college “all-star” soccer team, on tour.
On that trip to Mexicali Irby began to sense a calling to “soccer” ministry, after spending his upbringing being afraid that if he fully trusted Christ, that God would make him a missionary.
That next fall just before the “big game” between Irby’s Cougars and Conrad’s Eagles Irby remembers going to Conrad and saying “If you take a team on a tour next summer I would like to go with you, I will even go as the ‘water boy.’”
Well the next summer Irby coached the “Soccer Friends” team that Conrad put together, to Jordan, Israel, West Germany, Austria and Holland; and it was in the little town of Amstetten, Austria that Irby knew that he was called to soccer ministry. It was also on this trip that Irby also made a lifelong friend- Paul Gizzi, who was player/assistant coach on the tour.
While Conrad concentrated on building MAI’s high school tour and soccer camp program and his fulltime job as a travel agent Irby was working on putting together a professional Christian all-star soccer team to travel to Jordan and Egypt.
Up until that time most USA based Christian soccer teams wore “red, white and blue” and were promoted as being “American”, which was clearly a “novelty” in the soccer world, in an age before soccer was popular in America.
But after four men representing the Palestine Liberation Front hijacked the MS Achille Lauro cruise ship off the coast of Egypt killed Leon Klinghoffer, it became too dangerous for an American team to travel to the Middle East.
After the trip to Egypt and Jordan was cancelled, Irby presented the idea of radically moving away from the “American” theme for MAI, and starting a team under the MAI banner called of course “the Seahorses” and putting them in the color “orange,” with MAI founder Tim Conrad. Conrad said “go ahead”…and the Missionary Athletes International Orange FC Seahorses soccer team, later to become the Southern California Seahorses was born.
Irby chose “Orange’ for the city of Orange and for the new colors of the team “orange, navy and white” and of course FC for the international designation “Football Club.”
Irby likes to add one bit of trivia to the founding of the team. On the Seahorses first international tour to Mexico (and the World Cup), Guatemala and Costa Rica the team not only wore orange, they also had an all green uniform.
So many wonderful coaches, leaders and players have now worn the “kit” of the Orange FC Seahorses and the Southern California Seahorses and so many lives have been changed as the teams have gone boldly forward sharing the gospel around the world, not only under the Seahorses banner but with many other organizations as well. Many “off shoots” of the Missionary Athletes International concept and the Seahorse program would be founded, carrying the gospel on to more places around the globe.
Note: Dave Irby is the CEO of Surge International, a sports ministry based in Salem, OR. For more information on the activities of Surge International, visit their websitewww.surgesoccer.org