Gus Xikis was LISFL president for 11 years. (Photo courtesy of the LISFL)
Today, FrontRowSoccer.com begins its annual countdown of the top 10 local stories of the year.
By Michael Lewis
During a weeknight game of the Long Island Soccer Football League’s Ryder-Vass Under-23 tournament in the summer of 2019, Jim Kilmeade decided to watch his son Jack play for the Northport team. After all, many players on that side performed for Kilmeade on his Northport Celtic team.
“And who did I get to see watching my own kid play? Gus and two LISFL board members at a weeknight game, not even a playoff,” Kilmeade said. “That told me why this league has exploded and why he is a such an incredible person.”
“He tried to get to as many games as he could, to the different teams as much as he could,” trustee Dave Harris said. “He couldn’t get to everybody. For a guy who was a volunteer, you would think he was the CEO of his own league. He was a great leader. He needed everybody to pull along with him to pull forward.”
“I just think Gus is the most passionate and fantastic soccer person I ever met,” Kilmeade added.
Gus Xikis was all about passion, whether it was about his family, work or soccer.
He always went headfirst into whatever endeavor was in front of him and it showed, usually with the best of results.
He was quick with a joke and first to preserve the honor and reputation of the league, banishing a team from a tournament if it used an ineligible player.
Xikis, the LISFL president, died on April 15 from medical complications. He was 66.
Long-time soccer administrator Rocco Avallone was elected president by the LISFL board of directors in August to succeed Xikis.
“I was asked by numerous board members to run to the position and I told them I would do it,” Avallone said. “And then I’ll see how it is after one year.
“Gus always talked about me doing something for the league should he decide to retire. We never expected something like this. This was definitely a shock to everybody.”
Avallone added that the league will name a cup competition after Xikis. Eastern New York State Soccer Association is planning to do the same thing.
“Whether it was the state, whether it was the region or the national body, Gus was there to help,” ENYSSA secretary general Peter Pinori said. “And he was good at it, too.”
“Great man, great leader,” LISFL first vice president Terry Uellendahl said. “He brought the league back to where it’s supposed to be, competitive. We’re still growing.”
When Xikis was in rehab after leaving the hospital, Uellendahl said that “everybody was thinking about him. We might not have been at his bedside, but he was always with us and we were always with him. We were there in spirit.”
While the soccer community knew about Xikis’ love affair with soccer and the LISFL, he had other passions as well — family. He is survived by his wife Candace, son E.J., and daughter Dina, daughter-in-law Christina and grandson.
“That’s always been the most important thing — soccer was definitely a big part of him — the love of the family and how proud he was of his children,” Harris said. “EJ was his pride and joy, in terms of soccer. He trained both of them [children]. He was always talking about EJ and loved the way he played.”
Uellendahl had seen many sides of Xikis, from soccer to his job. Xikis founded and operated a company that manufactured cabinets and furniture since 1979.
“Gus lived his life to the fullest,” he said. “All the paperwork, everything else he went through being the president, all the history, that he had that he put together, all the journals that came out were all done by him. He would be up to two, three, four in the morning, get a couple of hours of sleep and do his real job to earn money for his family.
“You just go around and look at some of the work he’s done, the quality of his workmanship was the equal to his passion about the game, and vice versa. The passion of his game was equal to his workmanship.”
Xikis also was second vice president of ENYSSA and was registrar and cup chairman as well. Xikis is a member of three Halls of Fame — U.S. Adult Soccer Association, LISFL and ENYSSA.
His endless resume included being a coach with Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association ODP and the Long Island Junior Soccer League Select from 1999-2003. He also was the general manager and assistant coach of the New York Magic in 2008 (W-League) and was the director of operations and marketing of the Westchester Flames (Premier Development League, now USL League Two).
He also was an assistant coach at Suffolk Community College and was the Region I National Cups commissioner. Xikis also was into soccer history, accruing records and biographies for the ENYSSA and LISFL Hall of Fame journals, sometimes writing them. He also made sure the league had a full archive of photos.
George Snizek, who was LISFL second VP during the early years of Xikis’ tenure, remembered when he and Xikis, then the league registrar, got down on their knees to mark the playing field with duct tape when the annual indoor tournament was hosted by Nassau Community College years ago.
“That impressed me,” Snizek said. “He didn’t have to do it. There were other guys on the board.”
Snizek also served as league arbiter during Xikis’ presidency and the latter wasn’t afraid of suspending a player for a red-card offense or perhaps something worse.
“He was a hard-nosed guy,” he said. “He was a fair guy.
“He did a lot of work for the league. … He was straight with me and a good, good friend.”
Tributes poured in for Xikis whether it was on social media from friends and family.
“Every loss leaves a giant hole in the lives of family and friends,” his daughter-in-law Christina wrote on Facebook. “We are suddenly robbed of all the moments we so often took for granted. Gus – we will miss the laughs shared around the dinner table and every story told in your special way. We will miss the jokes that we may have heard once or maybe 10 times before. The grief is immeasurable.
“Yet, while we often feel alone in our grief, sometimes the loss surpasses the boundaries of family and friends. Sometimes the loss extends deeper and further into a community. For Gus, NY soccer and all the beautiful people that make up that community, were an extension of his family. He was devoted to the beautiful game and worked tirelessly to make the people and the game thrive. It was his raison d’être. There is no replacing his light.
“If you knew Gus, then you know just how unfortunate it is that he has passed during such a strange time in our world. A huge service filled with hundreds of his peers, friends and family, laughing together as they share fond memories is the only right way to celebrate his life. I have not known a single person that deserves a greater finale.”
Pinori, also the president of the Eastern District Soccer League, and Xikis were like brothers. They had known each other since the late eighties and got along famously.
Said Pinori: “We had an argument once and I sat him down after that and I said, ‘Gus, this is not going to happen between you and me again. We cannot risk our friendship because of an idiot on one of your teams or because of an idiot on one of my teams. these people are going to be long gone and I want to be friends with you for the rest of our lives. so this is not going to happen between you and me anymore. Never. I don’t give a [crap] who it is.’ We made that pact. If there was an issue, we kind of stepped to the side, let somebody take care of it.
“I considered him very, very close to me. We had a lot of good times because we kind of liked the same personality, come up with a joke. … I loved him.”
Tuesday: Story No. 9