J.P. Pelzman was 57 when he passed away this week. (Photo from Pelzman’s Facebook page)
By Michael Lewis
Of the many talents that he possessed, J.P. Pelzman had the ability to make people smile or laugh.
He was quick with a joke or a witty line or two, and he seemingly had an endless amount in his arsenal.
Moreover, he was a respected and enthusiastic sportswriter who could handle any sport, although pro football and college basketball were among his specialties.
Unfortunately, the sports world won’t be able read words from J.P. Pelzman because he passed away earlier this week. He was 57.
I got to know J.P. when he worked at Soccer Week, a publication that reported about the beautiful game some 44 weeks during the year.
It was at the cusp of his writing career, having graduated from Hofstra University a couple of years earlier.
Like many smart young aspiring journalists, Pelzman grabbed whatever work he could find – for money, clips (that’s sample of one’s work to showcase to editors during job interviews) and company.
Between his work and quips – which sometimes would start a discussion and on rare occasions a polite debate – J.P. loved to talk about the writing process. Bob Liepa, then the Soccer Week editor, said in Pelzman’s obituary about his passion and desire to talk about writing. Most readers out there probably could care less about writers talking about writing.
But we cared. We wanted to improve. We wanted to hear about other writers’ experiences and ideas.
And, we would share our own thoughts with our colleagues.
Always loved that process and always will. You’re always learning in life.
J.P. once told me that he loved my transitions in stories. He called me something like the king of transitions.
I felt that was an honor, also explaining to him that it took years to figure things out, when to put in that appropriate phrase or sentence that would change the direction of the story.
For soccer fans, it’s more like a player trying to figure out if this was the right time to pass the ball.
He put his passion into his writing, whether it was researching a story or telling one in print.
While I did not run into J.P. over the past several years, I knew he acquitted himself well, writing for the Bergen Record, Asbury Park Press, Forbes.com and Rivals.com, among other publications and websites. While at Soccer Week, he also wrote for Newsday.
Readers in New Jersey and others who followed J.P. over the years, will miss his passionate writing.
You went way too early.
Oh yeah, about Soccer Week
I got to reminiscing about Soccer Week when I interviewed Liepa for my obit on J.P. It’s been 28 years since the publication went out of business, but I had plenty of memories there, especially with the staff.
For many of you not in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut soccer community who were around in those days, I should give you a bit of a history of the newspaper.
Started in 1977 during the New York Cosmos soccer boom and Pele’s retirement year, Soccer Week became the must-read publication for soccer fans in the metropolitan area. After all, it had coverage of local (professional, amateur and youth), national (national team and the U.S. Soccer Federation) and international (thanks to a Reuters wire machine in the office) soccer.
This was well before the internet as we know it.
For many years, the Soccer Week offices were based in Massapequa Park, N.Y., across the street from the Long Island Railroad Station (loved that when I had to journey into the city), and a long free kick from the famous Massapequa Soccer and Sport Shop. The offices eventually moved to Rockville Centre, N.Y., across the street for yet another training station.
The staff was small, but talented.
While we got paid for our work, we would never get rich. Heck, it was a pittance of what we deserved. But it was work for many os us and we got to write about our favorite sport on a regular basis.
Dennis O’Donnell and Carol Tepedino O’Donnell were the husband-wife dynamic duo that were the original editors way back in the day. They were followed by John Valenti, Marshall Lubin, Bob Liepa, yours truly, and Patrick Horne.
The O’Donnel’ls moved to Rochester as Dennis became the sports information director at the University of Rochester, a position from which he recently retired. Valenti and Lubin moved onto to long careers at Newsday. Liepa also worked at Newsday, but forged a reputation as one of the best sportswriters-editors in New York State as the sports editor of the Suffolk Times and Riverview News-Review.
Horne, who has coached several college soccer teams in the metro area, wrote a book – Black Pioneers of the North American Soccer League (1968-84).
After a stint as editor and publisher of Soccer Week, I went onto to become editor at Soccer Magazine, a national publican and was the New York Daily News soccer columnist at the same time. I also wrote for Newsday and The Guardian, among many other freelance gigs.
During my tenure at Soccer Week, we had a talented bunch that included Tim Leonard and Pelzman. Beyond covering games and writing features, there was the grunt work on Sunday night. That’s when teams from the Cosmopolitan Soccer League, Long Island Soccer Football League, Northeastern Super Soccer League, Hellenic American Soccer League, Italian American Soccer League and Eastern District Soccer League, among others – would call in their results.
The staff then would write league roundups.
Nick Koliarakis later joined the Sunday staff, also writing some intriguing features about soccer in Albany, N.Y. and the Gulf War.
Scott Gleba, who went onto to head Concacaf’s online presence, started his writing career by covering CSL games and writing U.S. men’s national team player profiles.
Gian Trotta, who passed away several years ago, wound up as our Italian and European expert.
Ed Borg was our New York City and Long Island aficionado on youth and high school soccer.
Charlie Cuttone wrote stories for us as well.
Doug Olcott came aboard later on as a writer-assistant editor.
Pelzman and Leonard wrote for Newsday and then for the Bergen Record. Leonard hosts From the Pressbox at WHPC (90.3 FM).
And the great Paul Gardner wrote a column for the paper way back then.
I hope I did not forget anyone. It has been years since the paper folded up shop – during the 1994 World Cup, ironically.
Put together, it was a pretty awesome staff.
We even won some awards from the Press Club of Long Island, no mean feat for such a little newspaper.
I am proud to say I worked with this cast of characters, who had plenty of character.
At the time, there was only one other publication in the states that called itself a weekly – Soccer America, which published, if my memory is correct, 50 times a year.
In many ways, both publications were the internet for many soccer fans because news about their favorite sport was so sparse in daily newspapers. The editors through the years had this unique ability managed to jam local (youth and amateur leagues), national and international soccer news into 12 pages. It had to be one of the great magic acts of soccer journalism.
We eventually expanded the size of the publication when appropriate, whether it was for preseason previews, a major tournament or the World Cup. We expanded to a 48-page edition for the 1990 World Cup, the first World Cup the U.S. had qualified for in 40 years (Bob and I stayed up Monday night and into late Tuesday morning to finish pasting up the paper.
A labor of love, indeed.
In so many ways.