May 6, 2016
Remembering and appreciating Rocco Amoroso
By Michael Lewis
Rocco Amoroso founded the LIJSL's Sportsmanship Program in 1980.
Photo courtesy of ENYYSA
Before rudeness became part of the culture and well before we became slaves to our cell phones to give a new definition to discourteous, Rocco Amoroso had seen enough on the soccer pitch.
He could not help but notice that players lacked civility. Instead of complaining about it, he decided to do something about it and established the Long Island Junior Soccer League Sportsmanship Program.
And that was in 1980 -- 36 years ago.
No one, including Rocco, realized at the time what an impact his idea would have not just on local youth soccer but the sport in general.
That sportsmanship program became the blue print for other youth soccer organizations and leagues in this country and even overseas (Ireland and China).
Heck, FIFA did not adopt its Fair Play Awards until 1987.
No doubt that Rocco Amoroso was a visionary, establishing a program with noble goals and a reminder on how players and coaches should behave. The program's motto, "Build Character Through Soccer," became the league's slogan.
So, just how big did the sportsmanship award become on Long Island?
Well, let's put it this way:
At the annual LIJSL convention, the league has honored sportsmanship winners and not league champions.
Every team that won its sportsmanship title in its respective division in its age group not only received a plaque in a special ceremony, but every player was given a sportsmanship patch that would be placed on his or her uniform that season.
Over the past three decades I got to know Rocco quite well. At many events and dinners we wound up sitting next to one another. Our discussions were about the beautiful game, sometimes the not-so-beautiful stuff on the field, journalism and just life in general.
He was passionate about his family, his work and his sportsmanship program. He was tireless on that third concept. If there was a dinner or a meeting, he seemed to be a guest speaker to espouse the merits if the latter.
When I heard about his passing early Friday morning, needless to say, I was stunned before sadness settled in.
I lost a friend. Moreover, soccer has lost a great guy and a visionary.