When Louis Confessore took a job teaching physical education at Coral Park Elementary in 1961, football and baseball were — some would argue still are — kings of the youth sports scene in South Florida.
Confessore, originally from New York City, himself was a captain pulling guard in the Wing-T formation during his years at John Adams High in Queens. He played football throughout his youth, and into college, where he also played lacrosse.
It was not until he moved to South Florida with his wife, Harriet, that he would become a self-professed “evangelist” for the game of soccer.
“The opportunity just presented itself,” said Confessore, 78. “When we started with our under-10 and under-12 leagues, we had no referees. Coaches would take turns. I’d ref the first half and coach the second half.”
His only experience with soccer was a course he took on the game while at Adelphi University and a half-season of varsity soccer in 1959. He played on a team with several Israeli exchange students who wanted to form a team, but when they could not find enough players, several of the physical education teachers — the only ones with any functional understanding of the game — wound up filling out the roster.
This month, after more than 50 years of involvement in youth soccer at multiple levels, Confessore and his wife will travel to Baltimore to attend the U.S. Youth Soccer Association’s annual awards gala where he is up for a national Administrator of the Year award. He received a regional administrative award from the Florida Youth Soccer Association (FYSA) late last year.
Confessore’s career accomplishments include establishing one of the first public high school soccer programs in Miami-Dade County in 1968 at Coral Park Senior High, where he was head coach of the girls’ and boys’ varsity and junior varsity teams until 1977 and where several players went on to collegiate and professional careers. From 1994 to 2000, Confessore was vice president of FYSA’s Region A, which covers the territory from Port St. Lucie down to Key West. He is one of the FYSA’s founding members.
“I have coaching license No. 168 from the United States Soccer Federation,” he joked. “That’s what I tell all of these new-time coaches when they start irritating me. … I’ve been here for the whole thing.”
He still mows the grass and paints the lines at Coral Estates Park, where he still plays the role of club director for the youth soccer program he founded in the 1960s. During his time in youth soccer, Confessore has worked entirely on a volunteer basis, except for when he took a job with parks and recreation.
He is still part of Coral Park Elementary’s EESAC committee, right next door to the park, even though he has long since retired from teaching.
Jack Kardys, 55, met the man he calls “Lou” when he was a 10-year-old kid playing soccer for Coral Estates. To Kardys, and others, what differentiates Confessore is an active interest in influencing and motivating kids without regard for “making a buck.”
“Lou comes from an era of volunteerism that you don’t see in our world anymore,” Kardys said. “That’s the teacher in him … he’s a lost breed.”
Daniel Prenat met Confessore 29 years ago, when Prenat’s son started playing soccer. Prenat founded Miami Strike Force, one of Miami’s oldest youth soccer clubs, soon thereafter. Prenat also coached high school soccer at Coral Reef and Sunset.
Prenat says that the competitive environment around youth soccer has changed considerably since he first started coaching. Prenat sees parents moving their kids around to different teams every year, coaches registering their kids in lower divisions, all in a thirst for bigger trophies and “three-dollar medals.”
“They think they’re teaching them something, but kids need to learn how to lose. They need to develop, and these are the fights that me and Lou have with parents all the time,” Prenat said. “Today, when you’re looking for coaches, or for someone to get involved, the first question you get is, ‘How much money are you paying.’”
He believes there isn’t much of a place for well-intentioned men like Confessore in today’s game.
“Parents are measuring development of their child in how many games they won,” Prenat said. “Unfortunately, we need people like Lou, and we’re not going to have them.”
Dr. Ismael Roque played for Confessore during the end of his tenure as head coach at Coral Park High. Roque came to Miami from Spain. When he arrived he didn’t speak English, and Confessore didn’t speak Spanish. His first American paycheck came from Coral Estates Soccer Club for coaching the under-12 team.
Nearly than 40 years later, Roque is a physician, president and CEO of Hospice Care of South Florida after playing collegiate soccer in South Carolina and professionally in Malaga, Spain. He also founded Real Miami F.C., a soccer academy that has helped place kids in colleges like Princeton, Cornell, Boston University, Villanova and others. His brother and son also received an education through the academy and now work with him.
“If I didn’t have soccer, I wouldn’t have made such a good career for myself,” Roque said. “That’s why I find the time to give back.”
He attributes his charitable mindset to the education he received from Confessore.
“There aren’t many people out there doing it like Lou,” Roque said. “If I can wind up being half the man that Lou is, I will be happy.”
The awards gala in Baltimore will take place from Wednesday through Jan. 17.