After Bessie Lamonica lost her son, Rudy, a gifted soccer player, to bone cancer at age 17, she dedicated the rest of her life to ensuring that others could play the sport he enjoyed. She spent decades volunteering for the Oceanside United Soccer Club and the Long Island Junior Soccer League in his memory, and helped form the first girls’ soccer team in Oceanside.
Lamonica died on June 14, at 93, of complications of a stroke she suffered in 2018, but leaves behind a lasting legacy as a community leader in Oceanside.
“She was a little celebrity in Oceanside and in many parts of Long Island,” said her daughter, Donna Lamonica. “My brother’s dreams revolved around soccer, so after he died, she took off and tried to pursue his dreams.”
Bessie and her husband, Phil, volunteered for the Oceanside United Soccer Club and the Long Island Junior Soccer League for many years, and were inducted into the Eastern New York Soccer Hall of Fame in 2001. Bessie was also enshrined in the LIJSL Hall of Fame in 2018, 11 years after Phil died.
In 1962, Ian McDougall and Joe Goldberg founded the Oceanside United Soccer Club, and Bessie and Phil volunteered for it 58 years ago, when Rudy played on a team. Their son went on to play at Oceanside High School, where he scored more than half of the Sailors’ goals in the 1968 and 1969 seasons, setting school records along the way, and leading the squad to consecutive Long Island championships.
In 1970, doctors discovered that Rudy had bone cancer, and amputated his right leg to try and stop the spread of the disease, ending his soccer career. On Oct. 27, 1970, he succumbed to the cancer. His mother carried on his legacy.
Jim Volpe said he knew Bessie for more than 50 years, and called her a tough but dedicated woman who was devoted to volunteering for the soccer club.
“I would call her the mother of the Oceanside United Soccer Club,” he said. “She was everybody’s mom. She was down on the field hugging kids and handing out oranges. . . . When she was 92, she was still handing out trophies to 8-year-old kids. That’s what she did, and that’s what she loved.”
Bessie was born in West Virginia, and grew up in Biella, Italy, near Milan. She returned to the U.S. by herself after World War II, settling in Oceanside in 1948 before the rest of her family joined her. Soon after, she met Phil, who lived in Rockville Centre, after his sister, Rose, set them up. They wed in 1953, and had two children, Rudy and Donna, who was 10 when her brother died.
“She did not allow my brother’s memory to die,” Donna said, “and it didn’t die.”
After their loss, the Lamonicas focused even more on soccer, founding Oceanside United’s first girls’ soccer team in 1972, to offer girls the same opportunities to play the sport that the boys had. Donna played on the first team, the Oceanside Gumbies. Bessie and Phil coached the team and owned a fabric store in Oceanside, through which Bessie spent many days recruiting players for the club.
The Lamonicas also volunteered at the longest-running youth indoor soccer tournament since its inception in 1968. The club renamed it the Rudy Lamonica Indoor Tournament, and it is still held annually. For decades, Bessie awarded players trophies at the tournament and oversaw a journal that participants could write in as a way to honor her late son. Michael D’Ambrosio, a former vice president of Oceanside United who now is an executive board member of the LIJSL and the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association, said Bessie solicited ads for the journal to fund scholarships for players.
D’Ambrosio was there when Bessie was inducted into the LIJSL Hall of Fame in 2018. “When she gave her speech, you could hear a pin drop in the crowd,” he recalled. “She spoke about the importance of children playing soccer and having character and leadership. To the children of Oceanside, every Saturday and Sunday, she would be on the field making sure that no child was left behind.
Every June, Oceanside United gives scholarships funded by its indoor tournament and money raised by Bessie in honor of Rudy. The two Rudy Lamonica Memorial MVP Scholarships are awarded to one boy and girl who are chosen MVPs of the Oceanside High School teams as voted by the players. Additionally, the Rudy Lamonica Memorial Scholarship is given to deserving Oceanside United players.
“In Oceanside, she started girls’ soccer,” Volpe said, “and there’s been thousands of girls since then that have come through and enjoyed playing in Oceanside and went on to play college and enjoy scholarships that may not have been possible if Bessie wasn’t such an advocate for girls’ soccer.”
Donna said the family was planning a memorial service in the near future, and that they had held a wake in mid-June at Towers Funeral Home, where many people expressed to Donna what her mother meant to them.
Bessie was predeceased by Phil and Rudy, and is survived by Donna and her two children, Taylor, 27, and Austin, 25. Donna said she would continue to award scholarships and hand out trophies in memory of her mother.
“She said to me, ‘When I go, this is your job, and when I go, you have to go to Oceanside High School and give out scholarships,’” she said, “and of course I will. I have a little bit of Bessie and a little bit of Phil in me. I have spunk from my mother, and I have the sensitivity of my father. I think I’ll be all right as long as I stay connected.”