Building Character through Soccer
The Story of the Long Island Junior Soccer League
In 1966, a group of men saw an opportunity to promote the well-being of youth on Long Island while expanding the knowledge and appreciation of the sport of soccer. Their mission was twofold. First, they wanted to teach young people the value of discipline, hard work, responsibility, and teamwork. Secondly, they wanted to create an environment in which these traits could be developed and tested. Based on the understanding that the traits necessary for becoming a good citizen were very much in line with the traits necessary to be successful in the sport of soccer, they created a youth soccer league. Now, after more than 40 years, hundreds of thousands of players have passed through the Long Island Junior Soccer League and learned the values of the league’s original founders while continuing to live by their mantra, “Building Character Through Soccer”.
The Early Years
Prior to 1965 there were some attempts to begin a youth program for soccer. The idea of American youth playing soccer was regarded by many as interesting only because of its novelty and rarity. An example of this occurred in 1963 when the Deer Park club requested several games with the Manhattan Soccer Club of the International League. The letter of reply stated in part that, “it sounds good, having youngsters demonstrate that American soccer has some possibilities at the youth level.” Nothing further developed.
Mr. Joe Boyle had tried to work out a relationship between the Nassau County Police Boys Club and the Long Island Junior League. This endeavor never met with much success. In 1965, Pat Ryder became the president of the Long Island Senior League. He made a concerted effort to have Senior League teams assist, and even sponsor the development of youth teams. Some responded, but the junior teams largely remained a secondary consideration and were left to flounder on their own.
Finally, in 1966 the first steps to create the Long Island Junior Soccer League were taken by Jack Maher of the Deer Park Celtics. Maher wrote to Pat Ryder, who was now president of the Long Island Football Association, requesting the formation of a Long Island Junior Soccer League. Fortunately for Long Island soccer players everywhere, Ryder had the foresight to see the benefit of a self-organized youth program and appointed Maher as the first Junior Commissioner of the instantly formed league. In a matter of weeks, eight teams had gained admittance to the league.
The First Season
The league opened play in December of 1966, and in March of 1967 completed a 14-game schedule. And so was born one of the first youth sport-specific leagues in the country. The LIJSL has now grown into one of the largest youth sports organizations in the entire world. The original eight clubs have grown to 98 organizations that stretch from Queens to the east end of Long Island, and encompass over 60,000 players from age 4 to 19.
Like all growing entities there were periods of ups and downs, successes and failures, trial and error, encouragements and disappointments. But throughout the process there was a firm determination to see the seeds of the program grow and bear fruit. The league’s history shows a willingness by its’ leaders to try new things and develop new programs. Some have had a longer life than others, but each endeavor was undertaken with the goal of promoting the league’s objectives, and the idea of teaching and directing the youth of Long Island toward becoming mature adults and responsible citizens through team participation in the sport of soccer remains among the core values of the LIJSL Mission Statement today.
Driven by Volunteerism
The lifeblood of the league has been, and continues to be, the enthusiasm and dedication of all those volunteers who tirelessly labor on the fields and through hours of meetings to nurture and bring to fruition a seed planted in 1966 that continues to bear fruit more than 45 years later.
The story of these volunteers and their efforts is a classic example of what individuals can achieve when teamwork and a single-minded purpose prevail over all other motivations. Throughout the history of the league there are many stories illustrating the enthusiasm of the early pioneers of this youth movement. There is the story of Ernie Green, a Jackson Heights native who heard about the league and volunteered to coach a team in Deer Park, riding the LIRR in order to get to practices. Lance Cpl. Weston MacLean, a marine from Westbury, had played soccer on Long Island. He gave his life for his country outside Da Nang on July 22, 1966, just days before his 19th birthday. Before being deployed he wrote to his mother that in the event of his death she should turn over his life savings of $400 to the LIJSL where the money was to be used for a best goalkeeper award. John Nunley became the first recipient in 1966. New York Generals coach Freddie Goodwin and his assistant Gordon Bradley conducted clinics for boys team coaches and managers. Bradley later became head coach of the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League, and his numerous clinics and speaking engagements were a tremendous boost forward for the Junior Movement. Tim Kevill, also of the Cosmos staff, was instrumental in arranging preliminary matches for many of our teams in order to bring the league into the public eye. Finally, Ryder published a newspaper titled The Long Island Soccer Scene in order to keep the soccer community informed of all the league activities and achievements. This list goes on and on.
The Growth of a League
Turning to the soccer on the field, the league’s first championship was won by the Lindenhurst Soccer Club at the conclusion of the 1966-67 season. Other participating teams included Long Beach SC, Chaminade Flyers, Deer Park Celtics, Smithtown Friars, Wyandanch BYC, Patchogue SC, and the Merrick Falcons. Meetings of the new Junior League were held at the Deer Park Knights of Columbus, and Jack Maher forwarded the monthly report to Pat Ryder.
Prior to the 1967-68 season the league formalized its’ administration. Ron Campbell was named President, Bill Greenfield, Vice President, Ervin Baumann, Treasurer and Corresponding Secretary, Dick Lindennauer, Recording Secretary, Ray Ciccolella, Registrar, Bob Mundhenk, State Delegate, and Pat Reilly, George Dunn, and Jim McBride, Arbitration Board Members.
By this time the league had expanded to 15 teams in separate Nassau and Suffolk divisions. The league also moved from being a winter outdoor league to a spring-fall outdoor league. The LIJSL and its member clubs would soon add indoor tournaments throughout the winter months. In The Long Island Soccer Scene, Pat Ryder commended the organization and men like Joe Boyle, Ed Whitney, Ed Farrelly, Tony Camara, Jack Maher, Pat Commisky, Eddy Abrams, Pat Reilly, and referees Paul Vaas and Willie Noble.
Many others have joined the ranks of these motivated pioneers. It would be impossible to list them all here. However, the leadership of this group continued to show the way. After Ron Campbell’s inaugural run as president, Bill Doyle, Sam Hobson, Tom Kenny, Tony Perez, Paul Bedell, Dick Frazita, Peter Collins, and Addie Mattei-Iaia all took their turns in office, each bringing the league to new heights before handing the reins over to current president Anthony Maresco.
For more than half of the league’s existence, Collins served as league president, guiding the LIJSL from 1977 to 2004. The many years he tirelessly and selflessly served the league could be referred to as “The Golden Age of the Long Island Junior Soccer League” because of the many innovations that were introduced during that period. Things that many people saw only as dreams, Peter was determined to turn into reality. Though he left office after 27 years, he continues to be a staunch proponent of the league and the game of soccer, and was inducted into the US Soccer Hall of Fame in 1998.
The torch was passed to Mattei-Iaia, the first woman to serve as president in league history, and a person who had served the league in many capacities, including LIJSL 1st Vice President and founder, along with her deceased husband Julio, of the Smithtown Kickers Soccer Club. She has long been an avid promoter of the game of soccer on Long Island. During her term as president, she has continued the philosophy of Peter Collins. “When others ask why, we say, ‘Why not?'”
It is because of the indomitable spirit of these people that the Long Island Junior Soccer League continues to exist and thrive today.
Boys & Girls Travel Programs
As clubs continued to grow in size, they began to look for more competition outside their own club area. They began to send teams to other towns to face other clubs. From these first contests, the idea of travel teams evolved, providing a broader scope of competition than the traditional in-house leagues in each town. The need soon arose for some organization and scheduling of these games, and so the Long Island Junior Soccer League administration took over the task. Today there are over 1,600 teams playing in the travel program, and the league schedules as many as 11,000 games between the Spring and Fall seasons. Remarkably enough, this does not include scheduling of tournaments.
Initially, these teams were comprised entirely of boys. The Long Island teams were soon excelling and traveling all over the country to participate in the most prestigious tournaments. Some teams traveled as far as Brazil, Taiwan, Europe, and even the USSR. Over time, college coaches began looking to Long Island for recruits to fill their rosters. National Championships have been won by the U17 West Babylon Panthers, the U18 Terryville Fire, the U16 Smithtown Arsenal, and the U19 Massapequa Arsenal. In addition, players like Mike Windishman, Mike Collins, Jim Rooney, Mike Petke, Mark Semioli, Chris Armas, Michael Kirmse, Sean Nealis, Tim Parker, and Chris Wingert, among others have entered the professional ranks in the United States and Europe.
In 1974, the girls became a regular part of the Long Island Junior Soccer League Travel Program. Lisa Gozley of the Massapequa Soccer Club initiated this program in conjunction with clubs in Hicksville, Deer Park, and East Meadow, and now the girls program has equaled the boys in size. It has also grown in stature. A large number of Long Island girls have developed within the travel program and have been recruited by many major colleges around the country. The league also takes great pride in the Long Island players who have become part of the National Program such as Emily Pickering, first captain of the women’s national team, Sara Whalen, Shannon McMillan, Danielle Egan, Christie Welsh, Tina DiMartino, Victoria DiMartino, and Crystal Dunne to name just a few.
As with the boys, several girls’ teams have won National Championships. The U19 Massapequa Falcons, U16 Sachem Tomahawks, and the U16 and U18 Northport-Cow Harbor Piranha have all been crowned national champs.
In addition to teams playing their regular league schedule, some teams have a chance to play in premier divisions. There are State Premier and Regional Premier leagues. Teams must petition to be accepted into these leagues based on their prior record in league play and points earned in tournament play. These teams are made up of players who have achieved a high level of proficiency and are prepared to make a larger commitment to the game of soccer, and are eager to compete against other top teams throughout the state and/or region. Presently, over 100 teams from the Long Island Junior Soccer League are playing in one of the premier leagues.
LIFC (Long Island Football Club)
2006 saw the start of another program that was aimed at providing intensified training and competition. The LIFC was designed along an academy format, rather than a club team concept. Players are invited to tryout. If chosen, they no longer play for their club team and make a year-round commitment to the LIFC program. Started initially with a group of U10 players, another age group was added each year until they formed teams in every age group. Coached primarily by area college coaches, the teams played in LIJSL league play, usually a year up, but also play other high level teams from the surrounding areas.
U9 Age Group
In 2010, yet another change came about in the LIJSL age groupings for travel competition. With more children becoming involved in soccer at an earlier age (many clubs have programs for children as young as 4 years old), many children and their parents are looking for higher levels of competition as early as 9 years old. The clubs were looking for an opportunity to have some kind of inter-club competition scheduled. President Addie Mattei-Iaia and her board of directors agreed to organize a U9 age group that would compete with clubs in a localized geographic area, thereby limiting excessive traveling. The league asked clubs to downplay the competitive nature of the games and stress the development of skills, an increased knowledge of the game, and equal playing time for all participants. This is another example of a new program that the league has started in response to the needs and the clubs and their players, and the promotion of the game of soccer among the youth of Long Island.
Player Development Programs
As the number of boys and girls teams continued to increase it was time to introduce another tier of training and competition. A Player Program was formulated by Peter Cunningham, Jerry Lyons, and Jack Buehlman. The plan was to select the most advanced players from among all the clubs comprising the LIJSL. These players would go through a series of tryouts that would result in the selection of a top level, or Select team. These players would have the opportunity to play together through the summer months. High level coaches, including many local college coaches, would work with these players on advancing their skills and their tactical understanding of the game. Tommy Lang, Bob Montgomery, Dieter Ficken, Frank Schnur, and many others devoted much time and effort to insure that the young players were getting the training they would need to move on to the next level.
In 1981, a Player Program for girls was put together with Eli Roll as the program director. As more colleges began to establish women’s soccer teams, it was considered imperative that the girls on Long Island be given the best preparation in order to take advantage of these new opportunities. The girls program has continued to grow under the direction of volunteers like Ellie Sidoranko and Pat Grecco.
The Player Program is ever evolving. One early problem that arose with the creation of two programs was trying to find a way to unify them and coordinate all their activities. Then President Peter Collins handed this responsibility to Richie Christiano, who brought together a very capable group of volunteers that included Susan Allers, and had both programs running together in a smooth, efficient manner. Another concern was to make sure that these players were getting the best training possible. Coaches like Sue Ryan, Tom Hayes, Tim Bradbury, Phil Schools, and Gary Book were brought in to create a constructive and comprehensive curriculum. A Technical Director was appointed to continuously revise that curriculum and oversee the coaching staff and training process. The goal was to provide a unified coaching philosophy and create a teaching progressions that was age specific. As players advance through the program, they build on what they learned at the previous level. Because of the ever increasing number of teams, the boys and girls both have their own coaching director. These coaches have the responsibility of overseeing the teams in their respective groups and insuring that all training sessions are properly structured to achieve the designated goals of each level of play.
The program continues to grow in popularity, and participation in tryouts is on the rise. The Select Player designation enhances a player’s resume and gives her an advantage when colleges coaches ready through an application.
Many players in the Long Island Junior Soccer League Player Program have moved on to state and regional select teams, where they get additional exposure to high level training. These players then have a chance to be chosen as part of the National Player Pool. Also, as part of the program, a number of Select teams are afforded the opportunity to travel during the summer. Depending on age group, players travel to Europe for training and competition, take a college tour of campuses in the Northeast and Southeast, or play in national tournaments on the west coast.
LIJSL Soccer Camps
One program that the league had not yet formulated was a camp program. Camps provide an ideal opportunity for players to keep in contact with soccer over the course of the summer. They also provide additional training time for players who want to work on their skills and improve other aspects of the game they may need help with. There were camp programs in existence, but they were expensive and often involved extensive travel and boarding. In 1989, Peter Collins asked Mike Clarke to put together a camp program that would address these issues. The notion of community or club camps was introduced. The league would bring a camp staff to a club rather than bring the players to another facility, thereby reducing cost and travel for families. The camps would target younger players and stress the development of skills necessary to excel at the higher levels of play. Many clubs quickly and enthusiastically supported the program.
A special feature of the league camps was that the staff would be comprised only of players who had gone through the LIJSL program and become players at some of the best college programs. These players were young enough to identify with the younger campers, yet still serve as role models. Camp staff had to go through, and still do today, the league licensing course and are under the direction of an experienced camp coordinator.
As the camp program expanded, a number of parents began to express an interest in a full-day format. The league had access to the NY Polytech campus on Route 110 in Farmingdale, which provided both indoor and outdoor facilities. With a location secured, an all day camp was added to the program; one week in July and one week in August. Both sessions sold out quickly. After a few years, the Polytech site was sold and the program moved to the newly built Peter C. Collins Soccer Park in Plainview.
The camp continued to grow, incorporating a special goalkeeper program. The camps also provided an enriching experience for the coaching staff, providing summer employment, and valuable experience for many who would soon pursue careers as teachers and coaches.
Debbie Trifilio followed Mike Clarke as the camp director and administrator. Despite much competition from for profit camps, the league program continues to provide a service and fill a need for our member players and clubs through our partnership with the New York Red Bulls. They are convenient, inexpensive, well-organized, and conducted by a capable and experienced camp staff.
The late 1960’s saw many other additions to the league program. The introduction of indoor tournaments during the offseason expanded the opportunity for more competition and continued skill development. Some of the first indoor league tournaments were the Carl Knoblauch tournament for U16 and 19 year old teams, and Oceanside’s Rudy Lamonica Tournament started in 1968, the oldest youth indoor tournament in the United States. The concept of indoor tournaments caught on very quickly. Over the years, more clubs requested the league to allow them to sponsor tournaments with the sanction of the league. With the clubs proving they were more than capable of carrying out the tournaments, the league found it no longer needed to sponsor these activities. Today there are many indoor tournaments sponsored by clubs throughout the offseason.
Long Island Cup (Chase Cup, Waldbaum’s Cup)
In the late 1970’s the league decided to conduct a Cup Tournament for all league teams. Through a single elimination format, every team in all age groups compete against each other across division alignments for the opportunity to earn the title of Long Island champion for their age group. In 1982, Chase Bank offered to sponsor the tournament, turning the LI Cup into the Chase Cup. Teams that reached the semi-finals were awarded t-shirts, finalists received trophies, and the winner hoisted the coveted Chase Cup Champions Trophy.
As the league continued to grow and more divisions were added to each age group, it became necessary to divide the tournament into three brackets; Major, Minor, Intermediate, and Minor. The tournament begins in March and runs through the Spring season, and over time has become the largest single-elimination soccer tournament in the world with more than 22,000 competitors (boys and girls, ages 9-19).
After ten years of overseeing the growth of the tournament, Chase was unable to continue on as the sole sponsor of the event. However, another Long Island community stalwart, Waldbaum’s, stepped up as a co-sponsor. In 1995, Chase had to drop its sponsorship of the tournament due to its merger with JP Morgan, and Waldbaum’s took over sole sponsorship of the Waldbaum’s Cup. In 2002, Vytra Health Plans also made a generous donation towards the tournament. Waldbaums continued on as the only sponsor of the Cup from 2003 to 2010, but Bankruptcy proceedings for the store’s parent company, A & P, in 2011 forced the event’s sponsor to step down. The tournament went on as the LI Cup for the first time since 1982.
Still, under directors Jim Dawes, Holly Maresco, and Marc Stein the tournament continues to be one of the most popular events of the LIJSL soccer year with as many as 1600 teams participating each Spring.
The Long Island Junior Select teams held a tournament each summer. Barbara Rodriguez and Gerry Anderson would arrange a competition between the ENYYSA select teams and those from Long Island. The tournament was held at the NYIT campus in Brookville. Over time, the decision was made to open the tournament to highly ranked teams from outside Long Island. In need of a much larger facility, the league obtained permits from Nassau County for the use of Mitchel Park in Uniondale. In 1990, the tournament took on the name Liberty Cup and continued to flourish under the supervision of Gerry and Doug Anderson, Sal Amorello, and Larry Anderer.
Teams came from Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Canada, England, Mexico, and the USSR. The tournament was a huge success. In fact, the USSR delegation enjoyed the experience so much, they offered to organize a sister tournament, Liberty Cup Moscow.
Liberty Cup Moscow
In September of 1990 Peter Collins and George Hoffman traveled to Moscow as guests of the Soviet government. With the full encouragement and cooperation of that country, they established a sister tournament to the popular Liberty Cup. The first Liberty Cup Moscow was held in the summer of 1991 with Hoffman, Amorello, and Randy Vogt escorting the Long Island contingent. Comprised of mostly LIJSL players and ODP players, they and an Eastern Pennsylvania U14 Boys team featuring youngsters Jon Busch and Ben Olsen, who would later go on to success in the MLS, played teams from Italy and the USSR.
However, this tournament turned out to be one of historical significance, and one that impacted much more than soccer. While the young players fought things out on the field, tanks rolled through the streets of Moscow in the infamous Soviet Coup. Needless to say, it was a surreal experience for the children, and one of great concern for their parents! Fortunately, all turned out well and everyone returned home safely with a host of unforgettable memories.
Liberty Cup Ireland
In 1992, Collins used his Irish connections to propose Liberty Cup Ireland. Again, he and Amorello traveled to Ireland and established another sister tournament. The first Liberty Cup Ireland took place in July of that year in County Mayo, Ireland, featuring eight teams from Long Island.
Over the course of time, the development of competing nationwide tournaments operated by tournament companies made it impractical for the league to continue to dedicate time and resources to this venture. Although the Liberty Cup program was discontinued after five years, it did provide hundreds of players with the unique opportunity to travel, compete, make friends, and spread goodwill abroad. The clubs within the Long Island Junior Soccer League sponsor many outdoor tournaments over the course of the summer that continue to provide players the opportunity to compete with players from neighboring states and countries.
The clubs joining the league were all community based organizations run by volunteers. The teams that they were fielding were coached by volunteers who were enthusiastic about serving the children in their community. However, one difficulty was that most of these volunteers had little actual coaching experience and an even more limited knowledge of the game of soccer, which became a concern for the league. The USSF and State Association did have licensing courses for coaches, but they were structured for advanced coaches with a measure of soccer experience. The courses also required a time commitment that was not easily met by most working parents.
In 1982, under the direction of Kevin Regan, the league established its own certification program. Kevin set out to design a course that was more practical and user friendly. The courses targeted varying groups based on age and ability of the coaches players. He formatted a progression of courses from “C” to “B” to “A” certifications. Coaches began with the “C” course certificate and then worked their way up. The National Soccer Coaches Association of America had programs in place for parent-coaches that were more directly targeted to youth players. Kevin reached out to them, asking that they review his curriculum and approve it for recognition by their organization. After some adjustments, the NSCAA agreed that certifications issued by the Director of the Long Island Junior Soccer League Coaching School could bear the NSCAA logo. As a result, today once a coach gets his certification he is enrolled as a member of the NSCAA for one year.
The Coaching Academy continued under the direction of Mario Maltese, and since 2010, John Fitzgerald. Clubs make arrangements to host coaching courses that are taught by league-appointed instructors holding the highest level NSCAA licenses. Approximately 25-30 are hosted annually by local clubs, resulting in nearly 500 newly certified coaches. After earning their “A” certification, many club coaches go on to earn their National and Advanced National diplomas from the NSCAA.
The league continues to reinforce the idea that to be a good coach you must be knowledgeable and well prepared. Coaches must be good teachers who not only have knowledge, but the skill and temperament to convey that knowledge. The players deserve no less.
All new coaches in the league were required to attend a coaches orientation program. Joan Czach and Joan Connor spent many nights giving the orientation course at the start of each season, as well as at the annual convention. The course is now online. Coaches are provided information on all the procedures they must follow in order to coach and administer to their team. Besides the paperwork and reports that are part of the job, there is a great emphasis placed on the importance of the sportsmanship program.
Every year at the LIJSL Convention, coaches must attend their age group meetings. This is a much anticipated meeting where coaches receive their schedules for the spring season. But it is also a valuable opportunity to reinforce the information and principles covered in the orientation course. It has always been the goal of the league to “Build Character Through Soccer”. The coaches are frequently reminded that they are the conduit through which sportsmanship flows to the players. If they don’t have it, the players won’t get it.
Communication is a key factor for any well-run organization. The Long Island Junior Soccer League has used a wide variety of media to keep the membership well-informed.
As required by rule, there were semi-annual president’s meetings and monthly open meetings of the Board of Directors. However, these opportunities succeeded in reaching only a small portion of the membership. In 1984, Emy Munser was appointed by Peter Collins to investigate the possibility of publishing a monthly newsletter. Munser launched into the project and soon had Kick-Off up and running. The first editions consisted of eight pages of content in a newsletter format and were distributed free of charge to all clubs.
Soon, Kick-Off had been expanded to a full-fledged 24-page news magazine that included league standings, a monthly calendar of events, minutes of board meetings, editorials, announcements, and guest articles. Twice a year Kick-Off was mailed to more than 16,000 families in the league. Unfortunately, after a number of years, the rising cost of publication, distribution, and the decline in advertising dollars made it economically unfeasible to continue publication.
In 1992, “This Week in Soccer” hit the airwaves. The program was broadcast on air time graciously provided by WGBB (1240 AM). Every Monday, commentators interviewed special guests to discuss the status of soccer on Long Island and around the world. Unfortunately, the transmission power of the station was limited in range and many people in Suffolk County were unable to tune in to the broadcasts. The programming content was engaging and interesting, but the inability to inform all of the membership through the show, and the loss of the donated air time (which had to be turned over to other programming), forced LIJSL off the air.
In 1993, the leading Long Island newspaper, Newsday, entered into an agreement with the Long Island Junior Soccer League and P.C. Richard & Son Appliances. Newsday agreed to give the league space every Wednesday to print the previous weekend’s game results as part of a P.C. Richard advertising page. The results were printed throughout the Fall and Spring seasons, and the final ten-week standings were printed at the end of each season. Although this was positive publicity for the league, it did not allow for the dissemination of other pertinent information to the entire league membership.
In 1993, the league tapped into the world of television. Soccer Zone was a half-hour program that focused on LIJSL team and club activities and news, as well as news from the soccer world at large. Hosted by Jim Kilmeade and sponsored by Vytra Healthcare, a Long Island based medical insurance group, the show featured interviews with leading soccer personalities, visits to various club events, demonstrations of training techniques, and skills demonstrations. Although very popular, Vytra chose not to continue underwriting the cost of production and Soccer Zone went off the air after 20 episodes on Channel 21, WLIW.
In 1982 the Long Island Junior Soccer League undertook what turned out to be one of the most successful ventures in their long history. After traveling all over the country to attend conventions, Peter Collins suggested that the league should conduct its own event. The idea of an independent league having its own convention was unprecedented at the time. There were national conventions held by USSF and USYSA, and many state organizations held their own events, but no individual leagues had entered into the fray. Once again Peter Collins’ “why not” thinking set the ball in motion. The LIJSL had grown to the point of being bigger than some state organizations. Peter passed the idea along to a dynamic woman named Judie Fein, who got a committee together. Soon the blue print was drawn and ground was broken on the new project.
The 1st LIJSL Convention was held at the Marriott Hotel in Uniondale. The event was designed to bring together all people involved in the game of soccer on Long Island and throughout the neighboring states. The convention’s reputation grew quickly and soon the league was looking for a new, larger venue. The convention found a new home at the Smithtown Sheraton, but the event outgrew that location as well. A new hotel was built on Route 110 in Melville, the Royce Carlin. The convention moved in even before the hotel was finished. Eventually the hotel became the Huntington Hilton, and has been home to the LIJSL Convention ever since.
Due to poor health, Judie had to step down and was followed by a series of new committee chairpeople that included Carol Quirk, Larry Peshkin, Addie Mattei. She used her business acumen and knowledge of the soccer world to bring a whole new focus and energy to the operation and promotion of the convention.
The festivities kick off on Friday night with an annual awards dinner that is a perennially sold out event. The member clubs use this dinner to present a Volunteer of the Year Award to one of their members, and the LIJSL inducts members into their Hall of Fame. The individuals who are honored on this night have usually recorded a long history of volunteer services to their clubs and the league in promotion of the game of soccer on Long Island. The dinner also features a guest speaker, who is usually a notable member of the soccer community. The list of past guests is who’s who of soccer including Professor Massei, Anson Dorrance, Steve Sampson, and Bob Montgomery.
On Saturday and Sunday, the convention will host as many as 10,000 visitors. The exhibition hall is filled with vendors who provide everything from soccer balls and cleats, to camps and tournaments, to equipment and fundraising programs. There are also coaching clinics, sessions on CRP, First Aid, and AED certification, presidents and coaches meetings, sportsmanship award presentations, a patch trading room and much more. The event then culminates with the annual College Bound Player forum on Sunday afternoon. LIJSL Hall of Famer and College Bound Director Pat Grecco leads a panel of coaches and players through a question and answer session on the college recruiting process.
Over the years, the Long Island Junior Soccer League Convention has grown into one of the largest soccer events of its’ kind in the entire country. Addie Mattei surrendered her role as event chair when she was elected president of the league in 2004, but Gina Titus and Sal Amorello continued to serve admirably as co-chairs in the years that followed, and now Holly Maresco has maintained the high standard of excellence for which the convention has been known.
As the league has grown, creating and maintaining open lines of communication with the LIJSL’s vast membership has been an important part of our focus. With tens of thousands of players and their families, nearly 100 clubs, over 35 committees, and dozens of league events and programs, providing quick, effective communication became a challenge. But through the league’s official website, LIJSoccer.com, the use of e-marketing and social media outlets, and the creation of a commercial development division, the LIJSL has been able to not only improve the efficiency of the league’s standard operations (from scheduling, standings, score updates, field directions, and sportsmanship standings, to weather and emergency cancellations), but also better promote the positive stories and programs being created among our members across Long Island.
After several iterations, LIJSoccer.com now serves as the online home of the Long Island Junior Soccer League and the official league information source for all 98 member clubs and their 60,000+ players. Re-launched in March of 2011, and again in March of 2014, the site now averages over two million page views per year.
The site is meant to serve as a robust destination site for LIJSL business. The site also includes videos, photos, and coaching education content, links to every member club, as well as other features touting the many successful programs sponsored by LIJSL.
Hall of Fame
The Long Island Junior Soccer League is the product of volunteers who had a vision for the game of soccer in America, and particularly on Long Island. Some ten years after its’ beginning, it was deemed fitting that some of those volunteers should be recognized. In 1978, the league held its first dinner for members of the Board of Directors. That night, the league presented the Gordon Bradley Award for the first time to an outstanding person who had contributed to the development of youth soccer. The first recipient was Frank Fergus, and the award has been presented every year since.
When the annual soccer convention began in 1982, the Gordon Bradley Award was re-named the Long Island Soccer Hall of Fame Award. The award is now presented at a special Friday night dinner during the convention weekend. The winners of the award are individuals who have served both their club and the league over a long period of time in the promotion of the game of soccer. There are presently 97 inductees (as of March 2016) and their names are engraved on a plaque at the entrance to the LIJSL office in Ronkonkoma.
Volunteer of the Year Award
Every club has its’ share of hard-working volunteers who dedicate their time and effort to the operation and betterment of their club. Some are coaches, some are administrators, some are both, because organizations know how hard it is to get volunteers to participate. With this in mind, the LIJSL asks each club to nominate one outstanding club volunteer each year to be considered for this award. These volunteers are presented with their award at the annual convention awards dinner.
Coach of the Year Award
Each year, the LIJSL conducted an essay contest, asking players to write an essay on why their coach “is the best coach a kid could have.” Hundreds of essays were received by the committee, who read all the entries. The winner was seldom the “winningest” coach, and the stories written by the children themselves provided some very moving and meaningful motivation for all coaches. The winning essays were read at the convention awards dinner in conjunction with the presentation of the award. The program was discontinued in 2013.
Offices and Administration
An organization that is primarily comprised of volunteers and that is spread over two counties must have a base of operations and a readily available staff to provide help and information. Over the years, the league has sought a location that could be identified as such a base. The road to having that home has been a long one with many stops along the way.
In the beginning, the league operated out of a small rental spce above an auto repair shop on South Oyster Bay Road in Hicksville. Two secretaries pretty much carried on the daily assistance needed by our members. The rental space next store belonged to Frank Schnurs’ Soccer Training Center. For a number of years the noise of auto repair, telephones, bouncing soccer balls, and the enthusiastic voices of children all blended together, making it less than an ideal working environment.
At long last, George Hoffman went to Nassau County to inquire about any empty county buildings that the league might be able to use. There was a building in Plainview that was only being partially used by the Deprtment of Weights & Measures. The league was offered the use of the empty portion of the building. The location was ideal, as the building was situated next to the fields that the county had made available to the league for the special children’s program. After some clean up and the addition of some furnishings, the league had their new home. The board room was known as the “Rocco Amoroso Room” because the cabilnets were all donated by his cabinet company.
In 1995, the league was informed that the building was part of a proposed land sale by the county and would have to be vacated. Not wanting to leave the area next to the TOPSoccer program fields and the fields that would soon become the Peter C. Collins Soccer Park, the league was able to take up residence in an old vacant house at the back end of the property. It was one of several houses built in the 1930’s to house doctors who worked at the Tuberculosis Clinic that was located on the property. The facility offered two floors, providing much needed meeting space, and the garage was converted into offices for LISRA (the Long Island Soccer Referees Association). This allowed for greater coordination between the two organizations. A month to month lease agreement was reached and the league moved into its’ new home in March of 1995.
Unfortunately the lease agreement came to an end and the league was forced to move into a second floor office suite on Sunnyside Boulevard in Plainview. But the idea of finding a permanent property owned by the league was becoming a priority. The constant re-location and moving of equipment caused too much disruption to the smooth operation of the league.
Board member Frank Scafuri was appointed as the head of a search committee. Their job was to scour through all available real estate that met the requirements of the league. The committee searched out and visited dozens of sites and went through all the hopes and disappointments of the typical homebuyer. After years of looking, the current property in Ronkonkoma came available. After much negotiation and research, President Addie Mattei-Iaia and the board of directors of the league arranged for purchase of the property. In addition to ample office and meeting space, the office provides team media and meeting rooms and other amenities.
After more than 40 years of moving from place to place, the league has finally found a center of operations that can truly be called home. The offices are befitting of one of the nation’s largest youth soccer leagues.
The league is administered by a president and four executive officers along with two trustees. These individuals are all volunteers. They serve two-year terms and are elected by the presidents of the members clubs. The board of directors makes all the policy decisions for the league. Those presidents are called together twice a year for official presidents meetings where they can address their concerns and needs with the board of directors. In addition, suggestions for rules changes can be submitted to the board during the year. A committee reviews these requests and may submit the suggestions back to the presidents for further discussions or a vote.
There are as many as 30 committees, each headed by a chairperson and a board liaison.
The office staff consisted of two secretaries and a bookkeeper/accountant. In 1997, in response to the growth of the league, an Executive director and an additional secretary were hired to oversee the coordination of the day to day operation of the league. The executive director is responsible for all office staff and communicates any administrative situations that may arise with the board of directors and the club presidents. The Executive Director must also see that all necessary communications are sent to the membership and appropriate committee personnel.