SPORTS FAMILIES: Soccer a staple for the Groben family

For the Grobens, soccer is a “family thing.” Thomas Dale boys soccer has been one of the most successful programs in the Central Region over the past 15 years, and for six years, the Knights featured a member of the Groben family in the goal. First it was Billy, class of 2010 graduate, then younger brother Tony, who graduated in 2012. Younger sister Maria also lettered four seasons for the girls, graduating last June.

“Soccer was just the sport that stuck around,” said Anne Groben, who considers herself a full-fledged soccer mom.

While their father, Bill, played soccer his whole life, the rest of the family’s athletic history is as interesting as it is accomplished. Anne’s bother David Longer played college football at Yale and her cousin, Albert Schoterman participated in the hammer throw in the Munich Olympics in 1972. Cousin Nick McKay played minor league baseball with Phil Niekro Sr., teaching him the knuckleball. Niekro Sr. taught it to his son, Phil Niekro Jr., who is now enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Billy received a full ride to play soccer at James Madison University and finished his junior season this past fall. In 2013, he split time in goal with three other keepers, appearing in seven games, starting six. Academically, Billy was a JMU Athletic Director Scholar Athlete in 2012. Last summer, he played with RVA Football Club, who won a national championship in part due to his goalkeeping. Billy was All-Central Region first team as a senior in high school, and All-Central District first team as both a junior and senior.

Tony and Billy were members of the same Dale soccer team for two seasons, as Tony backed up his brother before earning the starting goalkeeper job as a junior. Tony gained initial college interest and was heavily recruited by Towson, but ended up starting off his college career at Richard Bland Community College. While playing academy soccer, he was recruited by Averett University and Louisburg College. Tony opted for Louisburg and is playing there, hoping to get looks from a Division I school to transfer.

“The Grobens secured the net at Thomas Dale for six years,” stated Dale Soccer head coach Mark Fowler. “They saved the shots they were meant to save, which is the benchmark of a good goalkeeper, but they also kept out many shots which they weren’t supposed to get to.”

Maria was a “lunch box” player in the words of head coach John Kabler – a player not afraid to do the dirty work. In fact, Maria preferred it and enjoyed it. During her career at Thomas Dale she scored three goals and picked up eight assists, but as a defender she excelled, earning the title of team captain as a senior. Maria is currently pursuing an architecture degree at Savannah College of Art and Design and has discussed playing soccer there as well.

“I’m very proud of what all the kids have accomplished,” said Anne Groben. “Soccer has been great to us.”

All three Grobens have had the opportunity to play soccer in Europe. Locally, the Grobens played for the YMCA, the Richmond Strikers and the Chesterfield Soccer Club.

If there is a second love for the Groben children, it’s music. Billy was a member of the chamber chorus at Thomas Dale, Tony played string bass in orchestra, and Maria played percussion in band. Now, Billy plays local shows in Harrisonburg at coffee shops while he attends school. It would appear that no matter what the future holds, the Grobens are geared for success.

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