Peter Collins is in good company at the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Frisco, Texas as his name is between the legendary Franz Beckenbauer and April Heinrichs in the lobby of the Hall. (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
During our short stay on this planet, we meet people who do things to better our lives in ways we cannot imagine.
Peter Collins was one such person.
He was an ordinary guy, like your neighbor next door, who wound up doing such extraordinary things.
As president of the Long Island Junior Soccer League, he transformed a small organization into a behemoth entity that set the tone for youth soccer in this nation that at times was second to none.
Its annual convention was the largest of any league in this country. Its sportsmanship program, an original LIJSL concept created by the late Rocco Amoroso, has been copied throughout the worst.
On Friday night, Peter passed away.
He was LIJSL president for an unprecedented 26 years, which probably never will be equaled or surpassed.
While not one to blow his own horn or break his arm while patting himself on the back, Peter always gave credit to his board of directors or program chairpersons.
“You know why we’re successful?” he once told me. ‘Because we work harder than anyone else.”
And he was right.
Peter knew how to pick the right people for the right job. As Lynn Berling-Manuel and Jim Kilmeade once said about Collins, it was difficult to say no to him.
I have to admit. I am biased about Peter because he affected my career in such a positive way so many years ago.
In 1987 when I returned to Long Island after 15 years upstate, Peter helped ignite my career on Long Island. We met at the 1987 LIJSL convention when it was held at the Marriott in Uniondale, N.Y. I forgot who introduced us — I wouldn’t have been surprised if it wasn’t the late George Hoffman, then the first vice president of the league.
When Peter asked what I was doing, I told him I was just freelancing at a time. Peter then said nothing for what seemed to be the longest time — obviously, he was thinking of how he could get me involved with soccer on the island. He got me in touch with Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association president Peter Masotto and Soccer Week publisher Eric Besser, who hired me as the youth editor. I took on more responsibilities and eventually became the editor and publisher of that vaunted publication.
Unlike today, when you can trip over soccer information and news on the internet, At the time, there were only two soccer publications that had consistent publishing schedules that covered all aspects of the game — Soccer America and Soccer Week (which was put out 44 weeks a year).
During the ensuing decades, we had many a conversation about soccer, journalism and life.
He used to joke with me about how old a newspaper would get in a hurry, that it would be used for wrapping fish in a day or two.
I took no umbrage. I knew what he meant and laughed along with him.
My deepest sympathies to his wife, Anne, children and the rest of Collins’ family.
I’ve always appreciated what Peter did for me and thanked him publicly.
In my acknowledgement in my book Soccer For Dummies and during my recent induction speech for the Long Island Soccer Football League Hall of Fame.
In 1997, the LIJSL held a surprise 20th anniversary dinner for Peter at the Brookville Country Club. I couldn’t attend because I had to cover the U.S.’s World Cup qualifying match against Canada in Burnaby, British Columbia the next day (the U.S. won, 3-0, to qualify for the 1998 World Cup).
But I did send him a fax that was read at the dinner:
Peter has always been a class act as LIJSL president and more important, as a person, giving time to the sport he deeply loves and the children he cherishes.
I still cannot say it any better 21 years later.
Thank you, Peter, and rest in peace.