John Berardicurti: “I’ve been just a blessed person to still be able to do what I’m doing.” (Photo courtesy of the Rochester Lancers)
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — You name it and John Berardicurti probably has been involved in that level of soccer in the Rochester area, whether it’s as a player, coach and even as an equipment manager.
That includes youth, high school college, amateur, professional — indoor and out — and even a bit of the international game as well.
“I’ve been just a blessed person to still be able to do what I’m doing,” he said.
So, it’s not surprising that Berardicurti will be among the 20 honorees who will be inducted into the Rochester Lancers Wall of Fame during halftime of the team’s Major Arena Soccer League game against the Baltimore Blast at the Dome Arena in Henrietta, N.Y. on Friday at 7 p.m.
“I was surprised,” he said. “I got the email and I was browsing down, looking and looking and I was there, and I was wow! I was looking at all the other people on it, and it was quite a group to be with. It’s quite an honor to be part of the organization. Then to be put into the Wall of Fame, it was just an honor to be part it.”
Berardicurti’s journey into the beautiful game began in Spencerport, N.Y. There was no organized youth soccer leagues in the late fifties and early sixties when he was growing up, but Berardicurti discovered the sport in the eighth grade.
“As a ninth grader, it was one of those crazy things,” he said. “I tried out for the program, caught varsity coach Ron Broadbent’s eye in a scrimmage and the next thing I know I’m on the varsity team as a ninth grader.”
He played all four years at the Section V powerhouse, winning several sectional titles, captaining the team in his senior (this was prior to the creation of the state tournament).
In his late teens, Berardicurti played with the Baysiders, coach by Augie Thomas, who helped establish the Italian American Sport Club, which gave birth to the original Lancers in 1967. He played with the likes of Brockport State stars Alain Maca, the son of Joe Maca, a member of the 1950 U.S. national team that upset England in the World Cup and the very first draft choice in North American Soccer League history, and Lancers to be Gary Barone.
“It was just an incredible group,” he said. “We got to scrimmage the Lancers, the original Lancers. I was playing outside back against Frank Odoi, who had just come back from playing against Pele. That was an incredible experience He was a great guy, but a tough person to stay up with.”
Berardicurti helped start the Spencerport Soccer Club and began coaching children through his own camp.
Then it was off to college, first at Monroe Community College, and then to Buffalo State, which reached the NCAA Final Four as the 10th ranked team in the national before being eliminated by Columbia University on corner kicks. Yes, corner kicks, not penalty kicks.
“They advanced because they had more corner kicks than we did,” Berardicurti said. “To me, that was really weird.”
It was at Buffalo State that Berardicurti met Randy Smith, a superb athlete he loved soccer. Smith went onto an NBA career with the Buffalo Braves, San Diego Clippers, Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks over 13 seasons.
Berardicurti called Smith “probably the most incredible athlete I’ve ever been around.”
“We had gone 10 days straight preseason, three training sessions a day and then Randy came and they introduced us,” he said. “They didn’t know if they were going to let him play. There was no one, two or three. It was one division then. They said they were going to give him the green light to play soccer. They knew he was going to be drafted. We were doing a 100-yard sprint. He ran backwards and beat us all and we were going full throttle. I go, who was this guy?’ ”
He got married to Norma, with whom he has been married for 46 years, returned to Spencerport and taught in an elementary school. Berardicurti started coaching the seventh-grade team before moving up to ninth grade, junior varsity, boys and girls and eventually to Broadbent’s assistant. When Broadbent became Brockport State coach in 1981, Berardicurti took over the head coaching reins. He directed the Rangers for several years.
“I grew up in Spencerport, went to school in Spencerport, played soccer in Spencerport,” he said. “It just reached a point where the public was just a little bit much for my family.”
He ended up talking to well-known area college Doug May and George Perry about an assistant’s job and was hired by the later.
When former Spencerport H.S. soccer standout Jeff Farnsworth, who recently completed a year as president of United Soccer Coaches, told him that head coaching job at Genesee Community College (Batavia) was available in 1996, Berardicurti decided to take the plunge, although he realized he was in for a real challenge the first day on the job.
“I went into a room with three girls and I was facing them. and they kept pointing behind me at a blackboard that said, ‘We want to go to the national tournament,’ ” he said. I said, ‘That’s ambitious ladies. There’s three of you and me. that’s all we have.’ ”
So, Berardicurti went on a recruiting mission inside the school, walking into the cafeteria “Looking for anybody who was wearing soccer shorts.”
The GCC squad ended up with 12 players on the roster and reached the junior college nationals, losing to the No. 1 ranked team in the country, which had allowed only two goals that season. Berardicurti, named coach of the year, was proud that his team scored one of those goals.
While he loved what he was doing, coaching soccer was taking its toll.
“I’ve shared this with players and other coaches: soccer to me was like a drug. I was consumed by it, not only playing coaching,” he said. “My family, I missed a lot of them growing up because I was so busy coaching and doing things. When I was at GCC, my youngest daughter was playing at Brockport High School. I was driving at 80 miles per hour, pulled in in the parking lot, running up and the guy goes, ‘Your daughter just scored two goals, and she’s all done.’ I thought, that’s it. I didn’t want to miss my family.”
One of his sons was a freshman at Nazareth College, where May was and wound up as an assistant coach. After May passed away, Berardicurti stayed on for a few years as the team won its conference and reached the nationals. Berardicurti moved onto RIT before becoming former Lancers defender-midfielder Nelson Cupello’s assistant with the MCC men, which reached the nationals one season.
Berardicurti was ready to retire in 2015, when Roberts Wesleyan College head coach Mark Fish asked him if he was interested in being his assistant.
“After the first year, we had a lot of foreigners,” he said. “After we saw the schedule and the competition Mark and I figured we could win with Section V boys at Roberts against NAIA competition. We brought in all Section V boys. Two years later, we played the No. 1 team in the country, completely loaded with professional players. We beat the No. 1 team. We proved there was great talent here in Rochester. We just have to bring them together and be able to coach and let them do what they’re able to do with the heart they have.”
In case you’re counting, Berardicurti has coached at every Rochester college but Brockport and St. John Fisher College.
Berardicurti noted that current that he has also coach the fathers of current Lancers Dan Reger and Frank Ciliberto at Spencerport. “Now, I’ve gotten the privilege of coaching their sons,” he said.
He even got an opportunity with Farnsworth to coach against the U.S. women’s national team when he guided the Rochester Ravens women’s side as more than 10,000 spectators showed up in Brockport to watch the friendly.
“We ended up losing 8-1,” he said. “We hit the crossbar. After we hit the crossbar they just went to another whole another level.”
It was off the playing field that Berardicurti remembers the most. He wound up playing golf with Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy and rode a cart with head coach Tony DiCicco.
“The biggest thing was we watched them train,” he said. “The training they did was like it was World Cup. Everything was done at a very highly competitive level. They were doing a wind sprint wotj cones and had to be done under 24 seconds. They came in at 25 and it was a rookie who came across last. The girls said, ‘Just don’t worry about it kid, let’s get back in line and we’re going to do this with you.’ I thought, ‘Wow! Here’s the best players in the world and this young girl making them run again and they said don’t worry about it. I wish kids could see that and hear that.”
Berardicurti found his way to professional soccer when Rhinos trainer Dave DiPasquale told him the team needed an equipment manager.
“Incredible experience there, watching how they bonded together as a group,” he said. “I set up the locker rooms. Dave shared with me, caring for the players and how to set up a professional locker room. At the games I would be the equipment guy. A lot of the guys that I had played ball with came up and say, ‘You’re a water boy.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but I’m the best water boy you’ve ever seen.’ Then they’d see the interaction with the players, when they would come up and give me a hug. ‘Man, you’re really good.’ I guess I was lucky to be in the right spot.”
When DiPasquale joined the Lancers in 2011, he took Berardicurti with him.
He jumped at the opportunity to be a part of the WMF World Cup, an indoor soccer tournament in 2015. He had less than a day’s notice from Lancers owner Salvatore “SoccerSam” Fantauzzo. The Brazilian side needed help off the field, so Berardicurti and DiPasquale flew to the Midwest.
“It was an experience, just being around them, watching them warm up in the hallways,” he said. “They sing. Just the cadence they do. playing volleyball, tennis. There’s no cell phones just Brazilian music very low. and they sit around, they talk and they joke. Before they left the locker room to play games, they shook hands, they high fived each other. I just wish kids could see the locker room just so full of love and caring for each other. and when they get on the field, they play with so much passion.”
The Brazilians reached the semifinals against Mexico in Chicago. They trailed 4-1 at the half before rallying for a 5-5 tie. The Mexicans, however, prevailed in a shootout and wound up taunting the Brazil side. A fight erupted near the locker rooms.
“It was like an all-out war,” he said. “It was like a street fight, coaches and everybody. In the beginning they said, ‘We hate the Mexicans. It’s going to war.’ ”
Berardicurti ran into three of those players when the Lancers played with Milwaukee Wave last weekend.
“After the game, they came over to me, gave me a hug and guys,” said Berardicurti, who showed them a shirt they had signed for him. “They went nuts. I didn’t they think they would remember that stuff.”
Not only is he assistant coach with the Lancers, but with the Chili Fury U14 travel team. His son, Jamie, coaches the team and grandson Andrew plays on it.
Now, Berardicurti has come full circle. Not only is he assistant coach with the Lancers, but with the Chili Fury Under-14 travel team. His son, Jamie, coaches the team and grandson Andrew plays on it. Berardicurti figured that between him, Jamie and his brother, who was an All-American at Spencerport H.S., Andrew’s “got the best of the best” soccer genes.”
Through this journey John’s wife Norma, children and spouses: Sarah and Matt, Jamie and Kelly, Katie and grandchildren Andrew, Makayla, Gracey and Ella have supported him.