Gary Sampley has been at the forefront of soccer\'s greatest moments in Alberta.
He was there, carrying a bulk of the organizational workload, when Canada stunned the world with a dramatic draw with Brazil in 1994 before a packed house at Commonwealth Stadium.
There were the Canada Cup tournaments in \'95 and \'99, all the kicks and headers during Olympic and World Cup qualifying matches, and, most recently, Sampley watched the supporters revel in the national team\'s enthusiastic performances during last summer\'s FIFA women\'s U-19 championship.
But even with more high-profile matches on the horizon - perhaps a pool in this year\'s Women\'s World Cup and the return of the professional game to the city - Sampley has decided to pick up his ball, go home and work on renovating his garage.
After 18 years at the helm of the Alberta Soccer Association, Sampley has resigned as executive director although he\'ll stick around until June 15 to help his replacement, Liz Ferguson, with the change in command.
\"I told the board of directors three years ago that I would be retiring when I turn 60,\" said Sampley, who hits that milestone in three weeks.
\"I\'ve been so busy with the transition because it is such a large association that I haven\'t had a lot of time to think down the road. I have some different options but I\'m going to take two months and wind down.
\"I might become involved at the volunteer level. It\'s been a large part of my life for 18 years but I need to step back.\"
Sampley leaves the ASA with business booming. Not only is the governing body bound to be working closely with Edmonton\'s incoming A- and W-League teams but soccer continues to surge at the grassroots level.
Last season, the ASA had 161,000 registered participants, 34% of whom are female - the highest total in Canada. Alberta Soccer also recognizes 92 provincial champions - more than any other association in North America.
Back in March, Sampley joined Dr. Bob Steadward, Don Horwood and Clare Drake in receiving special recognition as a builder, from Sports Central and the Petroleum Club.
Under Sampley\'s watch, the ASA has come a long way.
\"When I started in 1985, we had 35,000 members and we were $79,000 in debt,\" recalled Sampley, who grew up in New Hampshire and was an All-State high school baseball player.
\"We had to get to a point where we actually owned the desks we were sitting at and the chairs we were sitting in. It was a very tough first year, but since then we\'ve built up our equity to a significant level while still having the lowest fees of any province in the country. We\'ve always been considered the arrowhead of Canadian soccer.\"
Ferguson, who grew up in Calgary, comes back to Alberta after a stint as executive director of Rugby Canada.
\"I\'m looking forward to the challenges,\" she said. \"The sport\'s profile is growing so it\'s a very exciting time to get involved, and with a professional side coming to Edmonton, that interest and development will do a lot of good for the sport.\"