Peter Collins helped the LIJSL rise to heights that few youth soccer leagues have known in the U.S. (FrontRowSoccer Photo)

By Michael Lewis
FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

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.

It’s 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 Nov. 30, Collins passed away. He was 87.

He was LIJSL president for an unprecedented 26 years, which probably never will be equaled or surpassed as one of the most influential people in New York soccer.

While not one to blow his own horn or break his arm while patting himself on the back, Collins 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.

Collins 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.

“People have always wanted to work for Peter Collins,” Kilmeade said. “No one, including me, can ever say no to Peter.”

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 though 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.”

Indeed.

Collins had a talent of recruiting the right people to fill chairmanship of committees and other projects.

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.”

Monday: Story No. 7