Bessie Lamonica in 2017, hugging a player on the left
By Randy Vogt, Director of Public Relations, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
June 17, 2020-The New York soccer community is mourning the passing of longtime volunteer Bessie Lamonica on June 14 at the age of 93.
Bessie was born in West Virginia but grew up in Biella, Italy, a short corner kick from Milan. After World War II, she emigrated back to the United States in 1948 by herself, living in Oceanside. She was able to have the rest of the family join her within the next two years when they emigrated as well. She soon met Phil, living in neighboring Rockville Centre, through his sister and 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. Bessie and Phil started volunteering for Oceanside United 58 years ago when their son Rudy Lamonica began playing on that squad.
Rudy scored more than half of Oceanside High School’s goals during 1968 and 1969 in 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. Through all 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 growing Long Island Junior Soccer League (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.
Longtime soccer volunteer Jim Volpe commented, “I knew Bessie for over 50 years since I was a teen. 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 the indoor tourney and also 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 is also given to deserving Oceanside United players. More than 100 players have had their college education partially funded by scholarships in Rudy’s name.
With approximately 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) stretches 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. All levels of soccer are offered––from intramural, travel team and premier players as well as Children With Special Needs. No child who wants to play soccer is turned away. ENYYSA is a proud member of the United States Soccer Federation and United States Youth Soccer Association. For more information, please log on to http://www.enysoccer.com/, which receives nearly 300,000 hits annually from the growing soccer community.