On the Friday after Thanksgiving, on Nov. 23, 2001, the 911 New York Soccer Foundation held a family soccer festival that raised more then $70,000 for the victims and families of the Sept. 11 tragedy.

By Michael Lewis

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – More than 3,000 soccer fans of all ages showed up at SUNY-Farmingdale to raise more than $70,000 for the 911 New York Soccer Foundation on Friday, Nov. 23 to help the victims and families of the Sept. 11 tragedy.

There was literally something for everyone, from bouncy castles for the youngest children, to soccer skill competitions for up-and-coming players to intriguing exhibition games of all levels and for all sexes. Raffles, food and shirts also were sold to raise money for the 911 New York Soccer Foundation ran the event.

The weather could not be more perfect. Temperatures rose into the 50s on a partly sunny Friday the day after Thanksgiving.

“Today was a fabulous day. You couldn’t ask for anything better,” foundation chairman Chris Galluzzo said. “The weather was just magnificent. The kids were great. The families that came here were great. The kids played in the pro games, whether they won a raffle or they were the children of the people who had fathers or mothers missing, it was just amazing.

“It was just a very, very feel good event. And want to thank everybody who did come. It was just fabulous.”

Several families who were affected by the Sept. 11 attacks attended the festival, including the Ruhalters of Plainivew, L.I. and the Desperitos of Bellport, L.I.

Fern Ruhalter lost her husband Adam that day. He was one of the assistant coaches of the Plainview-Old Bethpage Revolution, which plays in the Boys Under-10 Division of the Long Island Junior Soccer League.

“I’m very pleased to see a lot of people out here,” she said. “My husband would be very happy to know that I am here in his memory.

Her son, Ethan was in the middle of everything, giving autographs to other youth players and getting a few of his own from the MetroStars and Long Island Rough Riders after he scored twice as a guest player.

“It was fun,” he said. “I’m glad to be in it. I’m just trying to make the best of it.

“Fundraising is a good idea. Everybody is going to make the best of it and donate money.”

The exhibition games were the most popular events as hundreds of fans ringed two fields to watch players from the New York Power and Long Island Lady Riders tussle, players from the legendary New York Cosmos and New York Arrows butt heads and the official soccer teams of the New York City Fire and Police Departments go at it once again.

For former U.S. national team captain Mike Windischmann, it was a chance to play with his idols he watched while growing up in Queens. “I have a lot of friends on this team,” he said. It’s great. I was supposed to be with the other team, but I was traded. I can say I got traded to the Cosmos.”

Former Cosmos goalkeeper Shep Messing put off back surgery for a week to attend the festival, although he didn’t play.

“It’s tremendous,” he said. “For all of us in America, we’re all staggered by the events of the last couple of months. One of the factors is that you don’t know where to channel your efforts. And this is one that is channeled into our community, the soccer community, who have been touched by the tragedy. It’s a wonderful opportunity for us. This has given us a specific cause that hopefully will give a little bit of help to the people in the soccer world.”

One-time Cosmos coach Gordon Bradley drove all the way from Virginia to take part in the games.

“They told me what was happening, so I thought that would be a great thing, keeping the Cosmos name alive and getting the players together,” he said.

“I’m looking at 500, 700, 1,000 people. It doesn’t matter what the numbers are. All these players have come together to help out in what has been a disaster, as we all know. . . . When we look back 25 or 50 years from now, this (the festival) will still be going on. And that’s special.”

In what was the most competitive match of the day, the police edged the firemen, 1-0, on a late penalty kick by Mentor Winslow.

“It was a great crowd,” said firemen’s coach Joe Brosi, a city Fire Marshal. “We haven’t had a crowd like that at one of our games in a couple of years. It was just nice for everybody to get together. It was a family day.

“This is the best soccer event I’ve ever seen on Long Island.”

Fundraising is continuing with an online auction of some high-profile shirts of the world’s the U.S.’s best known players. They include Michael Owen, David Beckham, Rivaldo and Landon Donovan, among others.

Front Row Soccer editor Michael Lewis has covered 13 World Cups (eight men, five women), seven Olympics and 25 MLS Cups. He has written about New York City FC, New York Cosmos, the New York Red Bulls and both U.S. national teams for Newsday and has penned a soccer history column for the Guardian.com. Lewis, who has been honored by the Press Club of Long Island and National Soccer Coaches Association of America, is the former editor of BigAppleSoccer.com. He has written seven books about the beautiful game and has published ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers. It is available at Amazon.com.