Ray Wolfe is standing top left, Hilda Wolfe is sitting bottom left. (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo
By Michael Lewis
Three men who left their own indelible marks on the beautiful game.
They passed away in the past four days, Smith Sunday, Wolfe Tuesday and Blazer Wednesday.
I had the opportunity to know and talk to these three men over the years.
Gary Smith was the only one I did not know that well, but the few times that I spoke with him, I realized he was a class act.
I wound up writing about him, calling him the Johnny Appleseed of Long Island soccer for what he did for the game, starting soccer programs at East Islip and Commack High Schools, Suffolk Community College and St. Joseph’s College.
Now, that’s quite a legacy, affecting hundreds of the players he has coached through the years and the thousands that benefitted from the programs he created.
I had known Ray Wolfe for 30 years. Back in the day, I was the editor and publisher of Soccer Week, a weekly publication that was, for all intents and purposes, the internet for soccer in the metropolitan area. If you wanted to know what was happening in the world of soccer, it was in Soccer Week.
So, I got around to many games and events in the area and quite often, I ran into Wolfe, who was at first a referee and eventually the State Referee Administrator. As it happened, his wife Hilda, was the office manager of Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association, where Soccer Week had its offices during my tenure, and needless to say, I got know the Wolfe family quite well, especially when they sat us at the same table for a dinner.
Ray and I wound up having great conversations about soccer and life.
He was down-to-earth and seemed to have the best personality suited for a referee. He was a sweet guy off the field, but a tough one when he worked the middle of the games (reminds me of Clark Kent and Superman). He got his message across in a professional way, but don’t mess with him as well.
Ray’s influence on the game will be felt by future generations of referees, who learned from him, and perhaps will take his place as a State Referee Administrator some day and bring the game to a high level.
As for Chuck Blazer, his legacy is much more complicated. His influence was immense, the good and bad of it.
Chuck, who came through Westchester United SC and ENYYSA (he was a vice president), made TV deals for U.S. Soccer, CONCACAF and FIFA that helped propelled the game to higher and greater orbits.
So, there are mixed emotions about Chuck’s influence on the game.
The big question here is if it was tainted.
The answer? Yes, it was.
How much the growth of U.S. soccer has been tainted another question that is difficult to quantify at the moment.
There is little question he helped expose a great scandal in international soccer that led to the removal of Sepp Blatter as FIFA president. But his deals helped put FIFA in precarious positions.
How that will affect soccer in the future remains to be seen.
All I know is that these men made their own impacts on the beautiful game, whether it was beautiful or ugly.