The Winner

Martin Jacobson Is Coach Obsessed With Soccer

Martin Jacobson almost never loses. A high school soccer coach in New York, he takes the poorest of America's newest immigrants and helps them not only survive but succeed. Jacobson teaches his teams to be winners on the field and off.

But being a winner can have costs - both for the coach and the kids. Sometimes the price of winning becomes too high, or the rules are bent to grab a championship. According to some rival coaches, Jacobson is able to win so much only because he cheats. 60 Minutes II Correspondent Dan Rather reports from Manhattan.

Jacobson is passionate about his job. "You have to go into coaching and grab the soul of that child and say, 'Hey. Hey, kid, I care about you. I want your life to get better,'" he says.

His life got better through the game he loves, Jacobson says. A German concentration camp survivor taught him to play, and it got him off the streets, he says.

"What this game means to me is everything that is good about sports, everything that is good about the heart, everything that is good about life. It means everything to me, the kids and the sport," he says.

Jacobson coaches at Martin Luther King High School, dubbed by the tabloids as "Horror High." Most of his players are recently arrived Africans. With them, he has captured three straight New York City soccer championships - and the hearts of his players.

"To me, he is more than a coach," says Ian James, a Jamaican on the team. "More like a family member. Other coaches just care [if] you come to practice; you go home; and they do not care. He is kind of guy who makes phone calls and asks how you are stuff like that."

Boona Koundu, who emigrated from Senegal, says that his American roots start with his coach: "We are the tree; but Jake is the roots. If they cut him, we all are going to die. So Jake protects us, gives us what we need, advises us and helps with out education. Without him, we do not know what to do."

"They're lovely kids," Jacobson says. "I have [fallen] in love with immigrants from the continent of West Africa and the West Indies. And trust me, I don't care if they come from a country we've never heard of. If they can play soccer, and they can fit into the program, they can be from any country."

Foreign-born players fill most of the rosters in New York City. Take Newtown High School's team in Queens. The kids are mostly South American. But Newtown, which used to win city titles, now sees them going again and again to Martin Luther King High School.

Newtown coach Howard Ranzer claims that Jacobson cheats. He's not the only coach who accuses Jacobson of recruiting players illegally and of using overage players. "He played men against boys," Ranzer says.


Jacobson with some of his players
Jacobson admits that this has happened but says he didn't learn about it until two years later. He was suspended by the city board of education because of other allegations: playing one student on a day he was absent, and another without a proper permission slip. Jacobson admits to being careless.

Two Nigerian immigrants were too old and had graduated from high school in Africa. Jacobson got hold of Nigerian school documents refuting these charges.

During his suspension, Martin Luther King High School won the city championship. After winning, his players unfurled a banner that read "This Is for You, Jake. We Love You."

Before this season, Jacobson was fired. He blames the controversy on jealousy among rival coaches. In response, he filed a union grievance.

The New York Times sportswriter Bob Lipsyte, who has been covering the coach for years, defends Jacobson, saying that he doesn't cheat on purpose. But Lipsyte says that there is probably "slippage."

"I don't think it's so simple, considering where these kids have come from, to see if they are always as precisely eligible," he says.

Jacobson's personal life has taken more bounces than any soccer ball. He has had six children with five women and is a former heroin addict. That habit has been replaced with another: coaching.

This summer, even though he had been fired, he continued to coach the Martin Luther King High team. Like a fugitive, he asked the players to meet behind the school.

"These guys have had no workout in a while, and I feel they need to see Jake, and Jake needs to see them, and who knows how much more I will see them in the season," he said at the time.

New York City doesn't provide team uniforms, and Martin Luther King High doesn't even have a field. To practice, the team must scavenge for a free field among the city's parks.

On opening day, he was at his familiar spot, though not as a coach but a fan. But as he shouted out encouragement, that line seemed to blur a bit. "I am not doing anything illegal. I am just a spectator shouting out love to my players," Jacobson said. Martin Luther King High won, 10-0.

And a few days later, Jacobson was back at practice. He had amazing news to share: The Board of Education - without finding guilt or innocence - had dropped all charges. He was back as the Martin Luther King High coach. "You are my boys; what can I say?" he told his happy team. "There is no way we are not going to win."

Rival coaches - convinced the Board of Education should not have let him back on the field - came up with their own game plan. They had their teams forfeit the game rather than play against Martin Luther King High. The Board of Education stepped in, and compellethe rival coaches to play. Martin Luther King High went all the way to the finals.

Its rival in the finals was Newtown High, coached by its harshest critic, Howard Ranzer. The game was played on Nov. 20. After years of charges and denials off the field, the attacks and counter-attacks would be played out in on the field.

As the first half ended, the score was tied - 0 to 0. In the second half, Newtown scored first. Martin Luther King High answered with a goal of its own. But Newtown scored again and held on for the win. Newtown players were ecstatic; Martin Luther King High was crushed.

Afterward, Jacobson tried to explain his feelings for the game, and for his team. "To me, soccer's life," he said. "It's my passion. It's my love.I guess I love the sport and kids too much."

The broadcast was produced by Steven Glauber; the Web site, produced by David Kohn;