The history of soccer in the Mohawk Valley, of course does not begin with Coliseum Soccer Club. Perhaps Coliseum SC can be considered one of the most beneficial end products made possible by several generations of immigrants from Europe, beginning in the late 19th Century, whom brought their passionate appreciation of “the most beautiful game” with them from foreign lands to their adopted homeland of the United States. In particular, those whom came from Italy, Germany, Poland, Hungary, The Ukraine and Great Britain seemed to have been the most active in the community in keeping both the spirit and reality of the sport alive for their children and new neighbors.
The émigrés, whom would be most influential in the founding of Coliseum Soccer Club in 1978, were those of Italian descent, whom left a devastated mother country following World War II seeking new opportunities for themselves and their children in the fertile and beautiful Valley of the Mohawk. These original families and their descendants would eventually form the nucleus of an exciting new soccer tradition for the region.
They included such well-known names as Vito D’Alessandro, Philip Casamento, John Fornino, Pat Magro and Joseph Putruele. These dedicated men continue to be a source of leadership and inspiration to the soccer community as all of these individuals are still active with Coliseum SC to this day. In the spring of 1977, they formed the core of a team. They called themselves “Sons of Italy”. The following year, the Club name was changed to reflect the sponsorship of Coliseum Restaurant and to honor the Restaurant’s owner, Vincenzo Calautti for his support.
From the very beginning, Coliseum SC squads were able to achieve success on the field. As reported by Joseph Putruele, the Club’s first President, Coliseum received “clamorous affirmation, giving luster and glory to the team, which has rewarded the effort and capillary work developed by the utmost diligence of Coach Mario Torri.”
Mr. Putruele was referring to the summer of 1978, when Coliseum’s newly formed team competed in several tournaments including the Sal Inserra Memorial Tournament in Utica. In the championship match, Coliseum was locked in a fierce struggle with the talented side of cross-town rival, Dodge City. The star of the game was center forward John Fornino, whom hammered home both goals in Coliseum SC’s 2-1 victory. The prestige and glamour of soccer, Italian style, had been reaffirmed in the Mohawk Valley. As Joe Putruele later recalled, “The trophy in cloth granted to our winning team, galvanized Mario Torri’s boys and represented a stimulus of confidence for the future.”
Coliseum Soccer Club began a new decade with a very successful 1979 campaign in the Syracuse and District Soccer League behind them and a bolstered strength to the team roster. Behind the goal scoring of Giovanni Torri, who netted the ball on sixteen occasions and Frank Foster, who added six goals, the Club’s men’s squad progressed to the league championship. Minding the net was sixteen-year-old goalkeeper David Schirripa, who exhibited savvy cat like moves, which belied his youthful countenance. The defensive unit was anchored by the steady experience of senior member and team captain, Phil Casamento. Club President Joe Putruele offered this analysis of the 1980 edition of the team: “Our future will not disappoint even the skeptics.” The same year the team also brought home the trophy from the Herkimer College Indoor Tournament.
A bit of controversy emerged from the championship match of the 1983 season which featured Coliseum SC pitted against the formidable Olympic Club of Syracuse. To Coliseum players, officials and spectators, it appeared that the referee was “in collaboration” with the home Olympic side, and in spite of displaying superior technical skills, Coliseum fell slightly short of their goal against seemingly unfavorable odds. The following season would be a different matter however, as the proud Red and Gold players represented the Mohawk Valley admirably, securing their second Syracuse & District Soccer League championship. In 1985 and 1986, they would successfully repeat the feat.
1984 was also significant to the future of the sport in the area in another category. At the urging of new Club President Vito D’Alessandro the membership made the decision to organize their very first youth teams, a Boys Under-14 side coached by Phil Casamento and John Cappelli and a Boys Under-10 squad coached by John Fornino and Fred Polito.
In 1987, Coliseum Soccer Club greatly expanded its level of community service by agreeing to sponsor the “Soccer Spectacular” to benefit the entire region in cooperation with the American Youth Soccer Organization in Whitestown. As the Club organizers later recalled, the event allowed hundreds of young people and their families to “share in the fun and excitement, which is part of athletic competition. The tournament shirt and pin should make this day a lasting memory for years to come. Our greater hope is that everyone takes this opportunity to meet other neighbors and friends interested in the development of our children, as they will become the leaders of tomorrow.”
As the 1980’s decade began to draw to a close, the members of Coliseum Soccer Club were witness to an accelerating rate of athletic success in skill building and in the win-loss column as teams at various age levels brought home trophy after trophy. In 1988 and 1989, Gold and Red sides captured more than a dozen cup or league first place finishes.
The Club officers surely reflected on the situation with satisfaction and grateful appreciation. For this growing positive phenomena had been made possible in part by their own enterprise. They had possessed the determination and vision to begin the organization some twelve years before and now their seed of inspiration was bearing sweet fruit.
The 1990’s began auspiciously for Coliseum Soccer Club with the Men’s Over-30 team being crowned champions of the Syracuse Indoor Soccer League. Five more titles at the same facility in Liverpool, New York would follow for this squad of wily veterans. Club President Mario Sementilli stated the organization’s guiding philosophy succinctly in the 1991 Yearbook when he declared, “The members and committee have one purpose and they are firm in this principle: to develop more interest in the sport of soccer.”
In 1991, Club members made the decision to create the Frank Leone Memorial Scholarship, in tribute to the outstanding Coliseum player and comrade Frank Leone, whom passed away tragically and prematurely at a fairly young age. It was agreed that in each year when at least one eligible and deserving Coliseum U-19 player is graduating from high school and intends upon attending college, a financial scholarship would be presented. The first recipient was Sal Aiello, son of Augie and Judy Aiello. Twelve very worthy young men and women have since received the same honor.
In 1992, a rare but welcome situation occurred when both the Men’s First and Second Division sides won their respective Midstate Soccer League titles. Phil Casamento and Perry Nizzi ably coached the First Division side to victory. Rick Mitchelson and Allan Foote directed the Second Division boys to their first championship. Not surprisingly, all four coaches were also regular players with the enormously successful Men’s Over-30 squad.
In 1993, Lindsay Ellis became the first girl to suit up for the Gold and Red, competing with the Boys U-12 team, coached by her father Lee Ellis and Allan Foote. This “coed” group captured the Leatherstocking Indoor Soccer League championship. Many girls would shortly follow in Lindsay’s pioneering footsteps as the next year, Coliseum SC officially organized all girl sides in the U-19, U-14 and U-12 age categories. The first coaches appointed for the girls’ teams included Rick Reina, Gary Stuckey, Emmitt Fox, Michelle Nizzi, Mike Fornino and Jose’ Martin-Serrano. Rick Reina and Pat Magro also directed a U-8 Coed side. In retrospect, it was the start of something truly grand. 1993 was an all around banner year for the Club, with Coliseum-sponsored squads blazing through to a total of fourteen titles.
In 1994, Coliseum once again increased its commitment to youth soccer in the region through sponsorship of both an Under-16 Summer Select League and Under-8 Development League. Administered by the newly formed Midstate Junior Soccer League in cooperation with the American Youth Soccer Organization. The two leagues fielding eight and four teams respectively were the brainchild of Coliseum Club President Allan Foote.
In the U-16 League each side took the name of a famous European soccer club. Coliseum members John Fornino, Phil Casamento, and Vito D’Alessandro of Casa Imports were able to secure funding for this special venture from John Morell Foods. The regular season champion was Manchester United of New Hartford. The Liguria (playoff) Cup title went to Roma of Lee-Rome. As mentioned, the Club also ran an indoor clinic and league for U-8 coed players entitled “The Junior World Cup”, with each team taking the name of a world soccer power. The teams were Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Italy, of course! Argentina won the league round of competition and Italy captured the second Cup victory.
In 1995, a most significant event occurred in the history of Coliseum Soccer Club when Jody Grippe assumed the presidency. Mr. Grippe brought a new vision and energy to the organization, which he carries forward to this day. Jody had previously shown his enthusiastic leadership ability when he successfully convinced the Club members to be the inaugural sponsors of the “Summerfest Soccer Tournament” in Frankfort in conjunction with AYSO. The first festival drew in excess of 200 players, 25 coaches, 20 referees, over 60 volunteers and hundreds of spectators. Coliseum Soccer Club member participation could be witnessed throughout the day. Jody Grippe and Rick Reina served as tournament chairmen. Phil Casamento tossed out the ceremonial first ball to commence the tournament. Frank Baio and Pat Magro coordinated the food concessions. Bob Gould, Perry Nizzi and Jose’ Martin-Serrano donated refereeing time. Jim Branck helped line the fields. And Club General Manager John Fornino presented the awards and trophies at the end of a beautiful day.
In 1995, the Club paid special recognition to members and Head Coach Perry Nizzi and his assistant Jose’ Martin-Serrano for their incredible achievement the previous Fall with the Herkimer County Community College soccer men. For the HCCC team won the National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association Division III championship with an amazing undefeated record of 25-0 for the first time in college history. In addition, Perry was named National Coach of the Year and three of his players were selected as NJCAA All-Americans.
And of course, for the Coliseum Soccer Club itself, there were continued accomplishments on the field of play. In the 1990’s, Club sides won an almost unbelievable total of over ninety league and cup titles from the U-8 to Over-40 age division. Here are just some of the highlights from 1996-1999:
In 1996, the Men’s Over-30 and Over-40 squads both achieve first-place finishes at the Soccer America International Indoor tournament in Lake Placid.
In 1996, special recognition was given to Club member Bob Gould, for his then seventeen (now twenty-four) years of dedicated service as Head Soccer Coach at Mohawk Valley Community College. Bob has also unselfishly given of his time in coaching several champion Coliseum youth teams over the years.
In 1997, Coliseum acquires ownership of land in Schuyler for the development of three regulation size soccer fields. The Club name and logo was also registered with the U.S. Patent Office.
In 1998, the Girls Under-14 side qualified to play in the North American National Indoor Soccer Championships, a first for the Club.
In 1999, three Coliseum youth teams qualified for regional or national tournaments, including the Boys U-12 squad, whom followed the challenging road of the U-14 Girls and the dream of a national title.
Yet, as the old folk saying promises, the best was “yet to come”.