FAREWELL TO A SEASIDE “CLASSIC”
Each year the tournament organizers meet and ask the question “Is there anyone we should honor or dedicate this year’s tournament to?” We always look for a person who was a model “sportsman” or someone who goes above and beyond for the benefit of the young athlete and the “good of the game”. On a good year, several names are thrown out and a lengthy discussion ensues. Then, there are years like this one, when the question doesn’t even have to be asked.
On May 31, 2006, the South County Soccer community lost a “Classic” in Mr. Joseph Racca. Joe was only 44 but had touched many lives through his involvement in soccer. Joe was a very passionate man when it came to soccer. He was a one of a kind, “classic”. There were two things that he cherished more than anything else when it came to soccer – being Fields Director and coaching.
Everyone who knew Joe, knew that he never did anything at a gradual pace – everything was immediate and at full speed. And, Joe was also the “Master of his domain” when it came to soccer fields and coaching.
As the Clubs Field Director, Joe was responsible for field set-up which included getting the fields lined, setting goals in place, scheduling practice times/game times and any other tasks that involved getting the fields ready for play. For anyone who has played in the Seaside Classic over the years, you may have had the opportunity to play a few games at Tuckertown Park. Tuckertown Park is the Club’s home “pitch”. These fields were Joe’s “pride and joy”. Now, South Kingstown does have a full-time Parks and Recreation staff that maintains the fields, but Joe kept a watchful eye on the crew just to make sure things were up to “his” standards when it came to the soccer fields.
A few seasons back, I was driving to work one day and as usual I would see a maroon car fast approaching in my rear view mirror. I knew it was Joe. We both commuted to Groton, CT each morning and on many mornings Joe would speed past me, tooting and waving – going at life 75 mph. This morning however, Joe slowed down, looked at me and gave me the “Call me” sign. I got into work and turned on my computer. Already there was an e-mail from Joe. Then, two minutes later the phone call – “We can’t play on Tuckertown this weekend the fields are too wet – Rex (Fields Supervisor for the town) recommends not using them”. Joe talks me into canceling games and back to work we go. A week later I ran into Rex and say “It was a good thing we cancelled the games last week because with that rain we would have torn up the fields”. Rex replies, “You didn’t have to cancel the games, it was OK to play”. Then it dawned on me, “Joe” didn’t want us playing on the fields. That fall, Joe catches me again. Again he gives me the “call” sign, and informs me we are going to start rotating fields to give Tuckertown a “break”. Again, I run into the Parks Supervisor and he informs me we don’t have to rotate fields. So, this time I asked Joe, who came up with the “Rotation Plan”. He says, I did – I thought it would help the Tuckertown fields “grow in” better for the spring travel season. This was “Joe”, always wanting the best fields in the state for the South County teams.
When it came to Seaside and the Region 1 tournaments, this had to be the best part of Joe’s year. What a challenge! Set-up 25-30 soccer fields in two weeks, or less. And, as a bonus we would often throw Joe an extra challenge. For example, one year woodchucks started burrowing and popping up all over the sod fields; one year it rained so hard on Friday we had two fields under water and then there was the annual issues of dealing with the sod farmers and when you could set up those fields. Needless to say, on Saturday morning of the Seaside the fields were ready to go, more or less. And, so was Joe. At 6:00 a.m. you would see Joe’s cart whiz past you as he would yell “Have to go to field #16, only half a circle painted”. Then, 10 minutes later the radio would blast “Rock Head”, where are you, I have problems on field … and you would look out and see his cart whizzing off again. But, at 8:00 am, a game started on every field. By the end of the day, you would see Joe and he would be dirty and tired, but would have the biggest smile on his face because every field was operational and the kids were having a great time at the tournament.
Now Joe’s deepest passion had to be coaching. Joe has a son and daughter who are both soccer fanatics – wonder where they got that from. Joe took every training course the club would offer, got his coaching license and was always looking to learn something new about the game. And, he even became a referee so he could learn the game from a referee’s perspective. Then, he played in the “old men’s” league so he could prove to himself that if he could do it, he could teach it and his players could do it.
Joe started by coaching recreational teams, progressed to travel teams and then recently moved on to coaching at the premier level. Joe knew his soccer and he knew how to make his players better. Like every coach, Joe “ruffled a few feathers” along the way, but his heart and soul were with the young players and trying to get them to realize and achieve their potential.
When Joe was admitted to the hospital for the final time, the doctor’s had given him a timeframe of about 3 days. I was in the building and stopped in to see him. As we talked, he said to me, there is only one thing he would regret when it came to soccer. And that was, that he just starting coaching at the premier level with his daughter’s team and he wished he could have had more time coaching at that level because the young players were as passionate about the game as he was.
Joe loved the game and he loved working with young players. As a coach, you are often not rewarded; suffer many parental headaches and often wonder why you coach and if you are “right for the job”. As a coach, I have suffered through these same thoughts, so I know Joe must have as well. But again, because of the person he was, Joe finished life knowing exactly where he stood as a coach. Over the years, our club has built a strong relationship with the University of Rhode Island’s Men’s Soccer team. We have hired many of their coaches and graduate players to help train our young players. This past year, the team made the NCAA tournament. After returning from the tournament, Jay Primiano (Assistant Head Coach) presented Joe with a coach’s tournament jacket. To Joe, this was like winning the “World Cup”. This was the final seal of approval that he was a “credible, tried and true soccer coach”. The look and smile on Joe’s face said it all.
Before he passed, Joe asked the club for one final wish. He wanted to know if the club would accept donations in his name to start a scholarship fund for players who may need help “funding their passion” for soccer. As a club, we felt there wasn’t a better way to honor a man who approached everything he did in life and on the pitch “For the good of the game” and the young athlete. And, this is exactly why there was no discussion on who to honor this year.
Therefore, the South County Youth Soccer Club is dedicating the 14th Annual Seaside Classic Soccer Tournament to “Coach Joe” Racca for the impact he has had on soccer here in South County and throughout the state of Rhode Island. For many, this year’s Seaside will be like no other. There will be no calls heard on the fields of, “Rock Head, where are you” or “Matthew Henry, you are killing me!” But the cheers and joy of young athlete’s participating in a game of soccer will be all that is needed to push the South County soccer family on. For this is the way that “Coach Joe” a soccer “Classic” would want it to be. Farewell old friend, and do not worry, we will keep the pitch green and the kids playing.