This is Michael Lewis’ induction speech at the Long Island Soccer Football League Hall of Fame dinner at the Floral Terrace in Floral Park, N.Y. Friday night.
I am doubly humbled tonight.
I am humbled by the fact the Long Island Soccer Football League would choose me for induction into its Hall of fame. I am also humbled to be included in this eclectic induction class that spans the soccer spectrum, men who I have admired and written about.
I want to thank the league, president Gus Xikis, Hall of Fame committee chairman Syd Crossley, his committee and anyone else who had anything to do with the selection.
That I am here accepting this great honor is not without great irony.
Growing up in Plainview and Westbury, I was a sports-crazed kid, crazy about baseball, football, basketball and hockey. Soccer? Not on the radar.
Only three weeks into my tenure at the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle in 1974, I took in my first professional soccer game, the Rochester Lancers vs. the Italy national Army team. I witnessed a surreal scenario as 200 fans invaded the pitch and attacked their own team! Thank heaven, I said to myself that I wasn’t covering this sport and this motley crew and covering high schools.
Life has a way of throwing us curves. Six months later assistant sports editor Bill Parker summoned me to his desk. There was a stack of files as he talked about how encouraged the editors were of my work. “Congratulations,” he said, “you are not covering your first professional team.” All I wanted to do is push the files back to him and say, “No thanks.” But I didn’t. I was still on probation and I didn’t want my ruin my chances of a sports-writing career.
It was the best professional decision I made.
While those early days were bumpy, I eventually embraced the sport. It has allowed me to see the world and meet people from all walks of life and nationalities, including here on Long Island. In fact, that was where the next step of my evolution in the beautiful game took place, learning the intricacies of the game at Park Stadium, Mitchel Athletic Complex, Hempstead Lake State Park, Farmingdale State and too many high school and college fields to mention.
A colleague of mine, Steven Goff of the Washington Post said we are story-tellers, and I have enjoyed telling the story of Long Island soccer.
In 1987, I covered the Oceanside Navahos, who defeated B.W. Gottschee to win the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association Boys Under-19 title. A player by the name of Mark Pulisic scored both goals for Oceanside, including the late-winner. I’ve heard he has a son playing in Europe these days.
In 1992, I had the opportunity to cover the Puerto Rico national team in the Dominican Republic in the very first qualifying match of the 1994 World Cup. Arnie Ramirez, the technical director of the team — is here tonight; thank you very much for coming. Mark Lugris, who lives in East Setauket, scored the first goal of the qualifying competition.
In 1995, I wrote about the Long Island Rough Riders during their run to the U.S. Interregional Soccer League title, which included several Long Islanders playing prominent roles, including coach head Alfonso Mondelo (Franklin Square) and Chris Armas (Brentwood).
In 2001, I had the opportunity of writing about Joe Brosi’s and Lyndelle Phillips’ harrowing stories about their experiences during the 911 tragedy.
In 2014, I did my version of Friday Night Lights for soccer, covering the Mattituck High School boys team from start to finish as the Tuckers captured the New York State Class B championship. Two of their players — James and Paul Hayes — now play for the Port Jefferson Under-23 team in the LISFL.
And in 2015, I had the opportunity to watch Kim Wyant of Garden City make some history becoming one of the few women to coach a college men’s team, at New York University.
Of course, this speech would not be complete without some thank you’s.
Thank you to Peter Collins and Peter Masotto for pointing me into the direction of Soccer Week so many years ago. Thank you to Sal Rapaglia, Costas Mallios, Howard Rubenstein and late Fritz Marth and Joe Goldberg among others for their support.
I also wanted to thank the editors and writers I worked with at Soccer Week, particularly Eric Besser and Bob Liepa.
I don’t have many regrets in my life, although I wish my father could be here to celebrate this occasion. I would like to think he would be pretty proud. He passed away in 2016.
Mom, I know you and dad were trying to figure out what the hell your sports-crazed son was going to do with his life. Well, I would like to think it turned out all right. Thank you for support and encouragement.
To my wife Joy, thank you very much for your patience. In this day and age of never-ending 24/7 news, you have put up with me working late into the night and on weekends to get the news out. Thank you for your support, encouragement and occasional editing.
I love you both.
Even though I have been bestowed this honor, I won’t be resting on my laurels. I plan on telling the story and stories of Long Island soccer for many more years to come.
Again, thank you very much to the LISFL for this honor on a night I will never forget.
Editor’s note: During the next week, Michael Lewis will write about some of his most memorable moments on Long Island while covering the beautiful game.