He was the man behind the world's largest soccer league
for 27 years. He also coached for more than 20 years and is one of the
best-known sports figures in Long Island history. And he did it all for free.
Peter Collins stepped down as President of the Long Island Junior Soccer
League on New Year's Day, not because he wanted to, but because he thought it
was best for the league.
"I'd been there for a long time, and I thought it was time for a change,"
Collins said. "Time to get some new people in there with new ideas."
Collins, 72, emigrated from Ireland in 1957 and settled in Hicksville. He
worked as a welder for LILCO for 32 years, but his love of the game and his
children led him to the LIJSL, a relatively new organization formed in 1966 as
a winter league run by volunteers.
"I just started out with my children being involved," he said. "And I
stayed with it because it's what I love."
Collins took over in 1977, bringing stability to a league that had nine
presidents in its first 11 years. Although he was a constant for nearly
three decades, the landscape of the league changed dramatically.
Under Collins' leadership, the league more than quadrupled in size from 300
to 1,475 teams. Collins' ability to recruit volunteers and delegate
responsibility based on individual strengths fostered the expansion.
"The tremendous growth of the league over the last 15 to 20 years is a
legacy to him," said Mitch Pally, vice president for government affairs for the
Long Island Association and president of the Three Village soccer club. "The
level of talent didn't concern him, it was that all players had the opportunity
Collins gave more than a third of his life to Long Island youngsters. He
coached his own children, one of whom, Michael, went on to play professionally
for 17 years and is the founder, director and president of the Fury Futbol
Club, a youth soccer program in California.
Jim Kilmeade, general manager of the Long Island Rough Riders of the United
Soccer League, knows of Collins' contributions firsthand.
Kilmeade grew up in Massapequa, playing for his father against the
Hicksville team Collins coached. In 1979, at the age of 17, Kilmeade became the
youngest coach in LIJSL history, taking over the Under-15 Massapequa Celtics
after his father was killed in a car accident.
"There's absolutely no one like Peter, and there never will be," Kilmeade
said. "This is a guy who's affected more lives than anyone I possibly know."
Collins was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1998 and is
also a member of the LIJSL and Eastern New York Halls of Fame. Yet he still
says the league did more for him than he did for it.
"They gave me a great life," he said. "Everyone says you do it for the
kids, but the kids do it for me. I benefitted the most from it."
Collins will still be involved with the LIJSL, though he's not sure in what
capacity. For now, he is taking a leave of absence and watching his
grandchildren play in the league he molded. But he would never take the
credit for it.
"No person does anything on their own," he said. "There were an awful lot
of volunteers . . . That was the strength of the league."
The quality of the volunteers, Kilmeade said, was a direct reflection of
"People have always wanted to work for Peter Collins," he said. "No one,
including me, can ever say no to Peter."
Achievements during Peter Collins' time as president:
League expanded from 300 to 1,475 teams.
1978: Began a Special Children's Program, becoming the first formal
league to do so.
1978: Created an annual springtime competition for all LIJSL teams, now
called the Waldbaum's Challenge.
1983: Held the first LIJSL Convention, it remains America's largest soccer
1980: Began the Esteemed Sportsmanship Program.
1981: Created the Exceptional Senior Games, a high-school all-star
1985: Built the Long Island Soccer Park in Plainview.
Early 1990s: Established the Liberty Cups, the first sports tournament to
Today, nearly 100,000 are registered to play soccer in the area, with the
LIJSL open to boys and girls from the ages of 9 to 19. Four percent of Major
League Soccer players participated in the LIJSL.
COMPILED BY BILL KING