Breadcrumbs

ASL then and now: Sports

For more than 70 years, ASL Eagles have been challenged to learn and grow in the classroom, in character, on the field and in the water—even before the School had athletic facilities! As our student athletes gear up for an exciting year of sports, ISSTs and team travel, we look back at how our sports program has evolved and expanded.

1950s and ’60s

When ASL opened its doors in 1951, the School was housed in the Knightsbridge flat of founding headmaster Stephen Eckard (ASL 1951-71). The lack of outdoor space or gym meant there was no formal sports program in ASL’s early years. Bob Crawford ’58, one of ASL’s first students, would play soccer and cricket in nearby Kensington Park, where teachers would accompany children for recess. Similarly, Fred Kilgore ’62 remembers using the grounds of Winfield House for sports afternoons. In 1958, when the School relocated to Gloucester Gate, students gained access to a British Army armory on Albany Street where they could play basketball. Jim Bexfield ’61 recalls how, during PE as a freshman, the basket had no headboard. With the help of his father, a colonel in the air force who could use his Army Post Office to ship sports equipment from the US to England, ASL secured the supplies to start a baseball team. Regent’s Park soon became the site of soccer, softball and other outdoor sports, and by the time Jim graduated, ASL’s burgeoning athletics program was in full swing.

Students used to play sports in the grounds of Winfield House, the residence of the US Ambassador to the UK

ASL basketball, 1960-61

Boys soccer, 1964

In 1968, the International Sports League was formed, which evolved into the International School Sports Tournament (ISST) that exists today. When Bob Carter (ASL 1969-2014) joined ASL’s PE department, the School was temporarily located at the Working Men’s College, and the boys soccer, basketball, baseball and tennis teams competed against Department of Defense schools in the UK as well as internationally. PE classes met in Regent’s Park, and home games took place in a rented gymnasium on Gloucester Gate and fields near Marylebone Road. Girls’ teams in volleyball, basketball and tennis continued to thrive.

Legendary coach and teacher Bob Carter worked at ASL for 45 years, retiring in 2014

ASL’s Girls Athletic Association, 1968

Cheerleading was a popular sport for young women. In the 1960s, practice was held on Saturday mornings and uniforms were homemade


1970s
The opening of ASL’s St. John’s Wood campus in 1971 greatly expanded ASL sports.


In 1972, former Director of Athletics John Lockwood (ASL 1967-2007) founded the rugby program. A forward and two-time captain for Saracens rugby team, John arranged for his players to match up against the elite rugby programs at British independent schools to strengthen ASL’s performance and reputation. Within a few years, other ISST schools developed rugby teams, and the program was well established by the time Mike Cottle ’79 and Mark Pearson ’80 played their first season in 1976. “Coach Lockwood was an inspiration,” the friends recently shared. The draw of playing rugby was twofold for Mike, who joined the team to get out of gym class and because it was the closest experience he could have to American football—a sport that wasn't part of ASL athletics then or now. "We had the brawn to play," Mike mused, "and we looked intimidating to many of our British opponents because we were sporting mustaches at 16. But we lacked the skill to compete against British teams whose players had been training together since childhood." Despite being green, ASL rugby could hold their own against other international schools, and they won the ISST championship in 1979. One of the most memorable moments for Mike was in his first game of the 1978-79 season, when an opponent's metal cleat scraped the side of his face after he got caught up in a muddy ruck, nearly taking off his earlobe. Mike stood up, oblivious to the pouring blood from his ear, until Raul Biancardi '80 pointedly drew his attention to the injury. Mike's parents took him to the hospital, and John Lockwood later told him, "Don't worry about it! Not having earlobes is a sign of royalty!"

Mark Pearson considers his time on the rugby team to be a formative experience. "I was pretty depressed about having to leave American football behind when my family moved to London," Mark shared. "From my first rugby practice on Primrose Hill, I was overjoyed to find this new sport, and I loved the game. The trips were wonderful, as was the opportunity to play with Coach Lockwood's Saracens club team. We played with adults and were treated like adults, on and off the field. I remember thinking that none of my former football teammates were doing anything remotely similar."

Mark, Mike and a group of other rugby alumni still get together once a year to reminisce about their ASL days and catch a Six Nations game. "Some of us are just as incorrigible as we were back then," Mike laughs. Still, their annual reunion is a testament to the strength of their friendship formed more than 40 years ago.
 

Coach John Lockwood started ASL rugby
 

Rugby team, 1973


The 1970s was also the decade that ushered in ASL swimming. For Greg McCullough ’72, who moved to London from Houston, Texas, as a sophomore and joined ASL’s swim team for the 1970 season, the experience was vastly different from the swim program he left behind in the US. At his Texan high school, swim practice was held twice a day, including a daily 6 am session. “It was like Navy Seal training,” Greg remarked. In contrast, ASL’s swim team was less intense and more fun. There were only six swimmers on the team, and they practiced at a local pool near campus. “I found it funny that the soccer coach, Eddie Hufford (ASL 1967-2005), was also the swim coach,” shared Greg, who really enjoyed training under Eddie. Greg also bonded with his teammates—among them, Hollywood star Kathleen Turner ’72!
 

The newly formed swim team under the leadership of renowned coach Eddie Hufford

Girls swimming, 1973

1972 was the first year the varsity girls basketball won their first ISSTs. Thanks to incredible coaches, from Ed Ladd (ASL 1983-90) to Terry Gladis (ASL 1998-present), the program has soared for four decades.

Varsity girls basketball, 1973

In 1973, Chuck Dodson (ASL 1973-2001) began his 28-year career as ASL’s beloved basketball coach, PE teacher and athletic director. During his tenure, boys varsity basketball won the ISSTs nine times, from 1976 to 1993. “We dominated ISST sports in the ’70s in almost all sports,” Chuck proudly recalled. In addition to strengthening the basketball program, he added girls and boys cross country, girls softball and started the school’s booster club to garner volunteer support from team parents.

Varsity boys basketball, 1974—the first team to be coached by Chuck Dodson

Chuck in action on the court

1980s
For the first and only time in ASL history, girls field hockey won ISST gold in 1986.

Championship field hockey players from the 1986 season

ASL girls soccer began in the fall of 1989, when there was finally enough local competition from the newly formed girls teams at TASIS England, ACS Cobham and other UK rival schools to initiate a program. Practices and home matches took place at Paddington Recreation Ground. Coached by Dave Noble (ASL 1971-98), ASL’s inaugural varsity squad boasted talented players such as Margaret (Farmer) Pringle ’91, who earned MVP that first season as well as All-Tournament Player for two consecutive years. Captain Amanda Gustafson ’90 steered the team through four victorious matches, and they were undefeated until the ISST final against the American School of Paris. “We lost in Paris in the pouring rain,” Margaret commented. “It was a heartbreaking defeat because we were the better team. But Coach Noble sat us down and said, ‘Look—sometimes that’s the way things go.’” The following year, varsity girls won gold.

Coach Noble gives a pep talk

Girls soccer, 1989

1990s

In 1992, ASL girls crew was founded by Margaret Mellon P ’94 ’95 and her daughters, Gretchen ’94 and Courtney ’95. Initially sponsored by the Booster Club, as well as from fundraising, the team rowed out of Furnival Sculling Club in Hammersmith. Meg Bailey (ASL 1990-2014) joined as a coach in 1993, followed by Judy Kisor (ASL 1994-2014) in 1994. In 1995, the boys founded their own team, which was coached by Jim Guion

Girls crew, 1995

Thanks to the generosity of parents, alumni and friends, ASL purchased 21 acres of playing fields in Canons Park in 1994—becoming the home turf for soccer, baseball, softball, tennis and rugby.

ASL celebrates the opening of Canons Park playing fields in the spring of 1994

The 00’s
In 2000, after a much-needed campus renovation, the Farmer Family Gymnasium and the Blue Gym were opened as  the new facilities for basketball, volleyball and PE.

Construction on the new high school and and renovated gymnasium

A decade and a half later in 2016, ASL swimmers gained a new facility for practice and meets: the Aquatic & Fitness Center!

ASL’s six-lane, 25-meter pool sits beneath Waverley Park

Now!

“This year, we are offering more programs and sports than ever before,” enthuses Athletics Director John Farmer ’97 (ASL 2012-present). In addition to the traditional teams, students can opt for table tennis, ultimate frisbee, fun run club, chess and more. Interesting trends to note: ASL’s lacrosse program had a short-lived, three-year run, while girls volleyball is immensely popular in both middle and high school. ASL will be hosting ISST swimming this winter and baseball this spring.

Owing to waning interest and growing numbers in other sports, ASL cheerleading has been on hiatus since 2017. Dance is now part of the performing arts program, where students hone technique, attend professional shows in London and put on their own show in the School Center. 

In 2022-23, field hockey is seeing its biggest turnout of players in a decade. A challenge for this ASL sport is the lack of a turf field; girls compete on rented pitches from University College School in Hampstead or the Linford Christie Stadium. Still, the players are dedicated and look forward to a terrific season.

Varsity girls basketball remains the most ISST-winning team in ASL history, with 20 gold medals earned between 1972 and 2019. Their long-standing success, explains John Farmer, is that it has always been a program with high expectations. “The team has been mentored by some great coaches,” John adds. “We are proud to be a school that supports and inspires strong female athletes, from basketball to soccer and softball.”

Eight players made up the 2022 rugby sevens team. Small but mighty, the rugby program is adapting to the growing popularity of boys basketball and soccer—attracting nearly 160 athletes between the fall and winter seasons. In years past, boys cut from these varsity or JV squads might have joined rugby by default, but the increased number of club and developmental teams makes space for athletes of all levels. “We want students to play the sport they want to play,” offers John. “We strive to make our athletic program adaptable to meet the changing trends and growing needs of our student athletes, while also maintaining its competitive rigor to inspire the next performance level.”

With nearly 60 rowers, ASL crew thrives. It is the school’s only three-season sport, accommodating new athletes as well as those hoping to be top-level rowers. When they aren’t training on the 20 ergo machines on campus, boys and girls travel by bus to a boathouse in Chiswick for practices. (“The distance between ASL and the Thames is still tricky,” John admits). In the 2021-22 season, rowers competed in the National Schools’ Regatta as well as the Henley Women’s Regatta. “It’s a beautifully awesome sport,” John shares, “and I’m excited to see what this year brings.”

Good luck, Eagles! We would love to hear your favorite memories from your time as an ASL athlete. Contact alumni@asl.org to share your stories.