Peter Collins (right) and former ENYYSA president Peter Masotto. (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
Former Long Island Junior Soccer League president Peter Collins, one of the most influential individuals in LI and New York soccer, has died.
Collins passed away early Saturday morning, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association president Richard Christiano said on Twitter Saturday. He was 87.
“Sad to report that my friend and mentor, USSF life member and US Soccer Hall of Fame member Peter Collins passed away last night. Rest in peace,” Christiano wrote.
During Collins’ 26-year reign as league president, the LIJSL grew tremendously in unprecedented ways as it became the largest soccer league in the United States and one of the most impactful youth organizations as well.
Known as a humble man despite his influence, Collins was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1998, and then the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association and the LIJSL Halls of Fame.
“There’s absolutely no one like Peter, and there never will be,” former Long Island Rough Riders general Jim Kilmeade told Newsday in 2004. “This is a guy who’s affected more lives than anyone I possibly know.”
While Collins made an impact, he claimed he got more out of his volunteer job than the children did.
“They gave me a great life,” Collins told Newsday in 2004. “Everyone says you do it for the kids, but the kids do it for me. I benefitted the most from it.”
In 1957, Collins emigrated to the United States from his native Ireland and was a welder for the Long Island Lighting Co. for 32 years. He settled in Hicksville, N.Y., married Annie and had several children, including two sons, Peter and Michael Collins, who made their mark in the beautiful game. Not surprisingly, they played soccer and Collins coached youth teams there, guiding the Hicksville Americans to the U.S. Youth national final four.
“I just started out with my children being involved,” Collins was quoted by Newsday. “And I stayed with it because it’s what I love.”
When Collins took over as president in 1977, the youth soccer boom was just beginning as the league had gone through nine presidents over its first 11 years. The great Pele had just retired from the Cosmos, who were just only beginning their amazing run in the original North American Soccer League.
The LIJSL? Even thought it was 11, it was still in many ways, taking baby steps. Then Collins came aboard and with a board of directors with vision, changed the shape of the league, and in many respects, youth soccer as we know it.
Under the Collins’ regime, the LIJSL more than quadrupled in size from 300 to 1,475 teams. The league added several high profile-programs, including a Special Children’s program, an annual convention, the Exceptional Seniors Games, the Sportsmanship program and built a soccer park in Plainview, N.Y. that now bears his name — the Peter C. Collins Soccer Park.
“Most of the programs that the league conducts were the brainchild of Peter,” former board member Kevin Regan said at a Collins testimonial in 1997. “Probably Peter’s finest moment was the creation of the Long Island Soccer Park.”
Collins had a talent of recruiting the right people to fill chairmanship of committees and other projects.
“People have always wanted to work for Peter Collins,” Kilmeade said. “No one, including me, can ever say no to Peter.”
During his 20th-anniversary testimonial at the Brookville Country Club in 1997, Collins’ contemporaries talked about his impact on youth soccer.
Lynn Berling-Manuel, then the publisher and editor of Soccer America who is now CEO of the United Soccer Coaches, journeyed from northern California to honor Collins the night of Nov. 8, 1997. She said she was ready to roast Collins but decided against it became “making fun of Peter Collins is like making fun of God.”
Added Berling-Manuel, Somehow Peter Collins brings together the diverse groups of people. I’ve been told that nobody can say no to Peter Collins. …. He brings out the qualities in you that you don’t ever see in yourself. … He makes things real every day. The LIJSL for 20 years has had a unique and special impact. There is one reason for that — Peter Collins.
Tom Mulroy, a mainstay at the March conventions over the years with his coaching clinics, flew in from Miami.
“Most presidents of soccer league are in charge for two years,” he said. “The first year is for their ego. The second year they realize what they’ve gotten themselves into and they bail. Yet, Peter has been LIJSL president for 20 years.”
And praise came from closer to home as well.
“The ENY [Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association] board and myself will always be grateful to the work that Peter has done which has benefitted Long Island as well as the whole state association,” said Livio D’Arpino, who was the first vice of the Eastern New York State Soccer Association (adult) and a member of the ENYYSA.
Richard Nuttall, the coach of the Hofstra University men’s team, agreed. “I cannot imagine a more forceful and honest advocate of the great game of soccer,” he said.
Added Nanci Apostolides of the Long Island Soccer Referees Association. “You’ve been an inspiration to me and the … association,” she said.
Randy Vogt, then the LIJSL public relations director, wrote a song, honoring Collins, which was sung to the tune of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. A part of the song:
The league grew by leaps and bounds
Becoming than all the rest
And Peter had an idealistic path
By closing every talk with God Bless!
President Clinton sent a congratulatory note as well. “American’s strength as a nation is through volunteerism,” he wrote.
That 1997 was a surprise party that Saturday night. Collisn thought he was going to spent the evening with friends. Well, he was correct, but never thought it would be 300 of them in one of the most memorable evenings of his life.
“He was totally and thoroughly surprised,” said Addie Mattei, then a LIJSL board who wound up succeeding Collins as president. “He never suspected a thing. What a great night it was. He deserved it.
Collins received a number of gifts that night. The league presented him with his wife Annie all-expense trips to Ireland and to Hawaii, the site of U.S. Soccer’s 1998 AGM.
“I would like to thank God, to thank this country of ours and Annie and my family,” Collins told the audience.
“Win or lose, we must enjoy the game.”
On New Year’s Day 2004, Collins stepped down as president.
“I’d been there for a long time, and I thought it was time for a change,” Collins was quoted by Newsday 14 years ago. “Time to get some new people in there with new ideas.”
But no one came close to the ideas and legacy that Peter Collins had forged to change youth soccer on Long Island.
Collins is survived by his wife Annie, sons Peter and Michael, daughters Noreen and Beth, and 15 grandchildren.
He died early Saturday morning at a Long Island hospice facility with Annie by his side.
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