Bessie Lamonica gave out trophies at the indoor tournament named after her son, Rudy. (Photo courtesy of ENYYSA)
Bessie Lamonica, a longtime volunteer with Oceanside United and Long Island Junior Soccer League, passed away on June 14.
She was 93.
Lamonica was born in West Virginia but grew up in Biella, Italy, near Milan. After World War II, she emigrated back to the United States in 1948 by herself, living in Oceanside, N.Y. The rest of her family joined her within the next two years when they emigrated. She soon met Phil Lamonica, living in neighboring Rockville Centre, through his sister. They were married in 1953.
The Oceanside United Soccer Club was co-founded in 1962 by Ian McDougall and Joe Goldberg and kicked off as a single team of 15 boys. The Lamonicas started volunteering for Oceanside United 58 years ago when their son Rudy Lamonica began playing on that team.
Rudy scored more than half of Oceanside High School’s goals during 1968 and 1969, leading the Sailors to consecutive Long Island championships. One year later, bone cancer was discovered and doctors amputated Rudy’s right leg, hoping to stop the spread of the disease. Despite the pain and turmoil, he kept his spirits high. Shortly before his death at the age of 17, he received a get-well letter from President Nixon and his wife, Pat.
“Losing a child is the worst thing that can happen to you,” Bessie explained in an interview three years ago. “My son lived a short life, but he lived a full life, every moment, and his spirit stuck to me because he wanted to promote soccer in this country.”
Despite this tragedy regarding their only son, Bessie and Phil founded Oceanside United girls soccer two years later in 1972, a decade after the boys started playing, so girls would have the same opportunities to play soccer as the boys. The girls started as cheerleaders for the boys teams and evolved into girls soccer teams. Just as Rudy played on the first boys team, their daughter Donna played on that very first girls team, the Oceanside Gumbies, which joined the LIJSL. Phil and Bessie served as the team’s coaches as the Gumbies played against the few Long Island towns with girl’s programs at that time, such as Garden City, Massapequa, Northport and Rockville Centre.
Bessie volunteered at the oldest youth indoor soccer tournament in the United States since its inception in 1968, which was renamed the Rudy Lamonica Indoor Tournament upon her son’s passing. For many decades, Bessie handed out trophies and was in charge of the tournament journal until her health prohibited her from doing this in the past two years.
For all this volunteering, Bessie and Phil were inducted into the Eastern New York Soccer Hall of Fame in 2001 and Bessie was inducted into the LIJSL Hall of Fame in 2018, 11 years after Phil’s passing.
“I knew Bessie for over 50 years since I was a teen,” longtime soccer volunteer Jim Volpe said. “She did an awful lot for both Oceanside soccer and girl’s soccer and she was probably the strongest woman I ever met. I wondered how she was able to keep going after the death of Rudy and later Phil. It was a privilege to know her as she was an inspiration to so many.”
Every June, Oceanside United gives scholarships funded by its indoor tournament and through money raised by Bessie in honor of Rudy. The two Rudy Lamonica Memorial MVP Scholarships are awarded to one boy and girl who are chosen MVPs of the Oceanside High School teams as voted by the players. The Rudy Lamonica Memorial Scholarship also is given to deserving Oceanside United players. More than 100 players have had their college education partially funded by scholarships in Rudy’s name.