Rudy Lamonica's Spirit Lives On in Oceanside
January 10, 2017 | by Randy Vogt, Director of Public Relations, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
January 10, 2017-Soccer fans might recognize Rudy Lamonica’s name as the oldest youth indoor soccer tournament in the United States, celebrating its 50th anniversary this winter, is named after him. The tourney will be played all day on both January 21 and 22 at Coleman Country Day Camp in Freeport and it has survived impressibly for five decades as there are very few indoor tournaments left since teams are playing in indoor leagues instead.
Throughout the South Shore soccer hamlet of Oceanside, there are memorials to Rudy. But who is Rudy Lamonica?
Rudy played on one of Oceanside United’s first boys teams after the club was founded by Joe Goldberg and Ian McDougall in 1962. As a teenager, he scored more than half of Oceanside High School’s goals during 1968 and 1969 in leading the Sailors to consecutive Long Island championships. He also starred in the indoor tournament that now bears his name during the winters of ’68 and ’69.
His teammate, Tony Higgins, recalled that, “He would be up at 5:30 every morning — dribbling, shooting. He seemed to have an intense desire burning within to be the very best. Nothing would distract him from playing soccer.”
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. In fact, the hospital staff put in his room a teenage boy with all his limbs intact but who couldn’t walk properly. That boy was feeling very bad so Rudy lifted his spirits.
Rudy passed away at the age of 17 during the closing days of the 1970 Fall Season after volunteering as Oceanside High School’s assistant coach. Shortly before his death, he received a get-well letter from President Nixon and his wife, Pat.
McDougall remembered Rudy as “one of the more modest, unassuming, thoroughly likeable persons you could ever hope to met.”
Longtime Oceanside United volunteer Jim Volpe, Chairperson of the Olympic Development Program (ODP) in the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association (ENYYSA), was a few grades older than Rudy and recalled that he “was a very funny and outgoing kid — even when he was sick. A very positive person.”
The Rudy Lamonica Memorial Field at Merle Avenue School in Oceanside was dedicated on October 21, 1990 -- exactly 20 years after Rudy’s death. Go to the southwest corner of the field, just outside the running track, where there’s a 4 x 9 foot brick wall with a plaque bearing his likeness and the words, “Rudy Lamonica Memorial Field. His Dream Lives On.” That plaque is a reference to what he would often tell his mother Bessie, “If I make professional, I’ll make a lot of money and I’ll build fields to keep kids off the streets.” This was at a time when very few Americans played pro soccer.
Nearly five decades after his passing, his now 90-year-old mother, who is an Eastern New York Hall of Famer just as his deceased father Phil is, still hands out trophies and is in charge of the journal at the Rudy Lamonica Indoor Tournament, celebrating its golden anniversary this winter.
Bessie reminisced, “Rudy lived a short life but he lived a full life. He lived every moment of his life! He enjoyed people and he was very kind, especially to older people."
Every year, Oceanside United gives scholarships funded by the indoor tourney 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 50 players have had their college education partially funded by scholarships in Rudy’s name.
Former teammate Higgins, now 62, remembered that “Rudy had a strong impact on us while he lived, just as strong as when he passed. He had a spirit that was indomitable!”
Through the Long Island Junior Soccer League (LIJSL) indoor tourney, the scholarships, the field on Merle Avenue and his mother’s volunteering, it’s a spirit that lives on.