Remembering U.S. Soccer Hall of Famer Peter C. Collins
Newsday referred to Peter Collins as the ‘father of Long Island soccer’ and we agree.
The Irish-born Long Island resident spent his entire adult life volunteering in youth soccer and help grow the game at Long Island Junior Soccer League to nearly 1,500 teams.
A park named the Peter C. Collins Soccer Park in Plainview is merely a small tribute to a man who gave so much of himself to the game.
While the United States is mourning our 41st President, George H.W. Bush, the local soccer community is also mourning the passing of former Long Island Junior Soccer League (LIJSL) President Peter C. Collins, who died on December 1 at the age of 87. The native of County Mayo, Ireland, was an extremely proud and patriotic American citizen whose answering machine ended with “God Bless America.“
“I am very sad to report that my dear friend and mentor Peter Collins has passed away,” Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association (ENYYSA) President Richard Christiano said. “He was volunteering in soccer until the very end of his life and will be sorely missed by the soccer community.”
Peter and his wife Annie settled in Hicksville where they raised four children and he served as a welder for the Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO) for 32 years.
The couple moved to Bethpage, ironically in a condo on property that was once a soccer field, in the last decade of Peter’s life. He is best remembered for all his volunteering as both a coach and later as an administrator.
He coached the Hicksville Minutemen to the McGuire Cup finals––U.S. Youth Soccer’s Boys Under-19 championship––in 1979 and 1980.
Peter was elected LIJSL President in 1977 and served in this role for 27 years. When Peter became President, the youth soccer boom was just beginning and the focus of American soccer was on the pros, specifically the Cosmos, who were attracting sellout crowds at the Meadowlands to see Pelé, Giorgio Chinaglia, Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto.
The LIJSL had slightly more than 300 teams and girls playing soccer was a novel idea. Now, the strength of American soccer is in its youth programs due to people like Peter Collins.
“Peter had a unique ability to get people to volunteer. He was simply the best,” stated current LIJSL President Anthony Maresco.
Under Peter’s leadership, the LIJSL more than quadrupled in size and now boasts over 1,500 travel teams. Add the intramural teams under the LIJSL’s umbrella and that is approximately 60,000 players as soccer is Long Island’s most popular participant sport.
But more important than the sheer numbers of local kids playing youth soccer and the dozens who went on to play pro soccer, including Peter’s own son Michael Collins, was how they played soccer.
In 1978, the LIJSL started the first-ever Special Children’s Program for soccer in the entire world when the Huntington Boys Club (HBC) and Massapequa Soccer Club separately kicked off programs.
The idea spread across the United States as it’s now called TOPSoccer and the LIJSL currently has 28 clubs with TOPSoccer Programs.
In 1980, also under Peter’s watch as LIJSL President, Rocco Amoroso started the LIJSL Sportsmanship Program when he was concerned about an overemphasis on winning in youth sports. The program spread across the United States and to leagues in Ireland and China.
The program has become so ingrained in the local youth soccer culture that many LIJSL teams would like to win their division’s Sportsmanship Award as much as their division championship and refs still grade teams on their game conduct after every LIJSL regular season match.
In 1981, the LIJSL started the first all-star showcase for high school seniors that college coaches could scout and named it the Exceptional Senior Games. Leagues across the United States adopted this idea, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. College coaches still scout the Exceptional Senior Games although it is now organized by the local high school coaches.
In 1983, the league began the LIJSL Convention and to this day, 10,000 soccer fans come to the Huntington Hilton on the second weekend in March.
In 1990, Peter and LIJSL Vice President George Hoffman traveled to the USSR as the Cold War was coming to a close to establish Liberty Cup Moscow, a sister tournament to the LIJSL’s Liberty Cup USA.
Little did anyone realize that the inaugural Liberty Cup Moscow, in August 1991, would truly earn its name as it was played during the aborted military coup that briefly unseated Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
Vice President Hoffman even snapped a photo of Gorbachev the day he returned to power. There were also Liberty Cups started in Ireland and Italy as well.
For all this volunteering, Peter was inducted into the Halls of Fame of the LIJSL (1984), Eastern New York (1997) and U.S. Soccer (1998). He was also honored by U.S. Soccer as a Life Member (2011).
The LIJSL’s 60,000 players might not know what Peter did as LIJSL President but know of him today because of the Peter C. Collins Soccer Park in Plainview, since a home playing facility for the LIJSL was part of his vision for the league. Originally starting with the LIJSL TOPSoccer Program in the 1980s, the fields expanded and became the Long Island Soccer Park in 1996.
In a surprise announcement, the LIJSL Board of Directors changed the name to the Peter C. Collins Soccer Park on May 22, 2004, in honor of the legendary figure who had given his life for youth soccer.
Peter did a very rare thing indeed. He made us dream of all the possibilities when people work together for the good of the game. May he rest in peace!
Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association: With over 100,000 youth soccer players–both boys and girls–and more than 25,000 volunteers, the non-profit Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association (ENYYSA) reaches from Montauk Point, Long Island to the Canadian border. Members are affiliated with nine leagues throughout the association, which covers the entire state of New York east of Route 81. ENYYSA exists to promote and enhance the game of soccer for children and teenagers between the ages of 5 and 19 years old and to encourage the healthy development of youth players, coaches, referees, and administrators.