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Ex-Elmont coach Walter Sofsian dies

Walter Sofsian in his Syracuse uniform. He played

Walter Sofsian in his Syracuse uniform. He played football there from 1961-1963. Photo Credit: Handout

Lined up at cornerback for the South Side High School football team was Scott Sofsian. On the opposing sideline, coaching Elmont, was Walter Sofsian. It was an unusual father-and-son moment.

So, naturally, the elder Sofsian drew up a trick play -- a halfback pass intended to dupe the teen. The throw wasn't completed . . . so coach Sofsian ran another gadget play against his son later in the game.

"There was no taking it easy on me," Scott Sofsian, 41, said of playing against his dad's team in 1987. "He was trying to pick on me a little bit."

There was that side of Walter Sofsian, without question, a hard-nosed football and lacrosse coach. But at home, his son said, "he was Dad, a sweetheart. The kind of father every son would want." And despite his accomplishments, which include a 2003 induction into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, "he was always humble. He never once bragged."

Walter Sofsian, a Rockville Centre resident and former longtime football and lacrosse coach at Elmont High School, died Saturday in Palm Coast, Fla. He was 69. His son said he collapsed while playing tennis with friends that morning.

Longtime friend Jack Salerno, 70, said Sofsian, a Queens native, was a strapping 6-4 athlete who received All-City honors in football, basketball and baseball at John Adams High School. He went on to play quarterback at Syracuse University from 1961-63. There Sofsian met Salerno, an offensive lineman, whom he later partnered with at Elmont, leading the Spartans to several championships in football and lacrosse.

After a brief career in banking, Salerno said, Sofsian took a job as a math teacher at Elmont and, in 1966, became Salerno's assistant coach in both sports. Together, they went 104-35-5, Salerno said, and won two football county titles. In lacrosse, they posted a 303-55 mark, including a state championship in 1977.

Sofsian took over as head coach in 1981, retiring in 1997 with a record of 78-52-3. Under him, the football program thrived, producing NFL lineman Marco Rivera, and the lacrosse team went 168-58, including an undefeated state title run in 1987.

"Very analytical, smart and meticulous; strong-willed and extremely competitive," is how Salerno described his former teammate, colleague and friend.

There was that side of Walter Sofsian, but there was also "Walt," the one who spent countless hours tutoring and mentoring students. "He cared deeply about the kids," Salerno said. "And he really had a soft spot for the ones who weren't so good at math."

Sofsian continually received letters and emails from former students "thanking him for helping them," Dorothy Sofsian, his wife of 42 years, said. "He was a rarity -- very tough, but an all-around super guy."

In his retirement, Sofsian refereed basketball, football and lacrosse games and worked with BOCES in assigning officials. And the past several years, his wife said, they spent winters in Florida, where he enjoyed golfing and playing tennis.

"He died being active," Scott Sofsian said. "That's how he'd have wanted to go."He is survived by his wife; sisters Jeanne Bednarczyk and Marion Adams; children Scott Sofsian, Traci Maier and Jessica Faranda, and seven grandchildren.

The funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre.

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