Salvatore “SoccerSam” Fantauzzo (left) and Lancer Louie. (Photo courtesy of the Lancers)
By Salvatore “SoccerSam” Fantauzzo
Special to FrontRowSoccer.com
Dear 2020 Lancers Indoor Soccer Inductees and Friends:
Thank you and congratulations! All of you have been loyal supporters of my favorite team from our Blue Cross Arena days and I can’t thank you enough.
Most of you know my story. July 2009 was a challenging time for me and Linda. I spent months trying to re-connect with the world by watching VHS episodes of the SoccerSam Show with my grandson Santino. I soon connected with Joe Guiliano, Jill Rizzo, Rocky Perrotta, John Berardicuri, Dave Dipasqaule, Kari Palandro Miller and Doug Miller. We watched each episode over and over. When I finally met each of you in person it was a special connection I can’t explain.
I had no idea who I was or what I liked but soccer was a huge part of my past life and I used soccer to learn and re-connect. I had this Lancers logo certificate on my wall in my office at home. I would use old Lancers and Rhinos players numbers to learn and remember numbers. I found old Lancers articles written by this guy Michael Lewis and slowly I learned how to read again. Michael, I probably read every story ever written about the Lancers and one story was about the lack of American and local players on the original Lancers team that stuck in my head for years.
Soon I found radio cassettes of Kick This! and The Pain Clinic radio shows. Again, most of my Rhinos friends were on several shows with Joe Guiliano being the original host. This guy Andrew “The Authority” Battisti was on the wrestling show and later I found out he was my co-host on the very popular Rhinos post-game call-in show. I started listening to Andrew’s Monday night soccer show that featured Lancers co-hosts, including Michael Lewis. Their Wall of Fame committee honored many Lancers legends over the years.
Things got scary at home with several business snakes trying to take my pizza business from Linda and I. The solution was to set up an office in Webster, N.Y. to help me get out of the house and try to save the company I started in 1978. One of the first people we hired was Lyndsay DiMeo. She helped me part-time in the past but soon became our only fulltime employee. I was clueless and scared of life’s challenges, but Lyndsay sat next to me eight hours a day trying to save Salvatore’s and teaching me basic stuff a 49-year-old should of known.
Early in 2011 Lyndsay booked my flight to Baltimore to watch an indoor soccer championship game between the Baltimore Blast and the Milwaukee Wave. For a while, I felt like a phony. They called me SoccerSam but I hated watching soccer. After that first live indoor game in Baltimore I was hooked and realized I loved indoor soccer. Soon I was working with Chris Economides, my old Rhinos friend, to join a new indoor soccer league. Lyndsay was a one-girl show, getting all the details ready for our future.
We needed a place to play and we had to meet this guy Jeff Calkins, who operated the Blue Cross Arena. Rich Randall, my Rhinos right-hand man. joined the the Lancers and took charge of the meeting with Mr. Calkins. We had to convince him that indoor soccer would work in this busy building. He had pictures of Sinatra, Cher and Elvis in his office. I remember thinking “Why the hell is this guy even talking to us?” He was so cool and Jeff even offered to let us announce the team at the BCA and helped with Rochester contacts for the turf and more. I’m so happy Jeff joined us at the Dome Arena.
Soon, Doug Miller offered to play. I remember telling my family at Sunday dinner that Doug was gonna play for us, my 28-year-old son Sal was jumping up and down like an 8-year-old hearing the news. Back in 1996 Doug would show up every week for the SoccerSam show tapings and eventually married the show’s co-host and Rhinos Dancer Kari Palandro. I was in their wedding and I had pictures on my desk of that special day. It was so cool re-connecting with both of them. Kari offered to create a Jr. Lancer Dancer team featuring her daughters. The party continues today at each home game.
TSE was gonna be our training facility. Old friends Dave Dipasqaule and John Berardicuri took charge and made all our new players feel comfortable and created a family atmosphere. They had toasters, bagels, coffee, tape and ice to take care of the team. The guys loved showing up for practice each day, Dave and John treated each player and our past four coaches and me like family. Our Team Brazil adventure was special and players throughout the league still talk about you guys today.
I was pushing hard to sign local players. The original Lancers and the Rhinos signed several local players from other cities and countries. I was excited that they signed a few local players, including my old teammate Marc Sotile. He is “The American Dream.” Marc tried out for the Rhinos and I was their waiting for him in Milwaukee years later for his first pro game with the Lancers.
For years I went to Section V sectionals in my first life with my good friend Jeff DiVeronica. I pushed Jeff to cover and vote for my favorite Section V stars, including Kyle Mansuck, Tim Crawford and Sean Hantes. Jeff reminded me years later on how I loved watching those three guys in high school and I must have known someday they would become pro players and Lancers. Having you guys be part of the Lancers since our BCA days and now is so great. You guys have grown in your personal careers and I appreciate that you all find the time to still help our Lancers.
In 2011 Gary Boughton became “The Pride and Joy of Buffalo NY” Gary worked his tail off every game for years, including our M2 team last season. Jeremy Ortiz (JO) brought his past indoor experience to the Lancers in 2011 and soon became a fan favorite. He also came back to help us last season in M2. Elliot Fauske joined us year one and after a volleyball game became the “Mohican Warrior” his passion and skill as a player combined with the natural ability to entertain continues to help us grow. I can’t thank you guys enough for flying in and helping us rebuild this team.
I remember that first game at the Blue Cross Arena like it was yesterday. Jilli directing the show like she did for years with the Rhinos. Lyndsay helping on the field next to me, Rocky Perrotta “The Voice” took charge of the PA duties like he did back in the Rhinos days introducing everyone including Kari and the Jr. Lancers Dancers. Joe Guiliano took charge of Lancers TV and radio and brought his 15 years of experience to the Lancers family. Those first four years at the BCA was very special but our road trips were even better. Joe, what happens on a Lancers road trip … never happened.
Kayla “Klark Kent” Moreira was one of the first Lancers employees Rich and I hired. I remember looking into her eyes and thinking, “This girl is crazy, but I think she will help us.” When I made a joke about her tattoo, she quickly put me in my place. Kayla soon took charge of tickets and groups and we lead our sport in attendance for our first four seasons at the BCA and sellouts now at the Dome Arena. I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have her protect me financially and share an office and life with her daily.
The other part of my dynamic duo is Ashley “Maria King” Solomianko. She showed up on a bicycle for her interview many years ago and soon took over merchandise sales at the BCA and now is in charge of everything! Ashley shined big time launching our NPSL and UWS teams alone and in less than 30 days. She helps Kayla and I daily with soccer stuff while running my favorite pizza chain. Our connection is so special I honestly thought we had to be related for years. I probably would of given up on soccer and more if I didn’t have her by my side every day.
Soccer, and you 20 friends mean so much to me. From my early days with TV, radio, Rhinos, the BCA and now at the Dome I’m honored you have been part of this crazy ride. The Lancers and soccer is my escape from my challenging real daily job. I truly love set up to take down and when I put on that jacket and sunglasses all my stress disappears and together we put on a party to lock in the next generation of soccer nuts.
My Top 20 in 2020 Inductees are all very special to me.
Thank You! ss