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League His Labor of Love / Soccer head worked for free

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

to play."

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

Collins' dedication.

"People have always wanted to work for Peter Collins," he said. "No one,

including me, can ever say no to Peter."

LIJSL Legacy

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

convention.

1980: Began the Esteemed Sportsmanship Program.

1981: Created the Exceptional Senior Games, a high-school all-star

competition.

1985: Built the Long Island Soccer Park in Plainview.

Early 1990s: Established the Liberty Cups, the first sports tournament to

use the same name in four countries (U.S., Russia, Ireland, Italy).

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

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