By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
West Haven Youth Soccer League President John Vinci, a goodwill ambassador of his deep-rooted Italian ancestry, received the city’s Italian American of the Year award at the 23rd annual Italian Heritage Celebration on Oct. 7.
Amid a picture-perfect autumn day, Mayor Nancy R. Rossi and the West Haven Italian Heritage Committee honored Vinci, the grandson of immigrant grandparents from the family’s namesake city of Vinci in the region of Tuscany, Italy, during a midday ceremony on the steps of City Hall.
The award is bestowed annually on an Italian resident or couple who personifies volunteerism in the city’s close-knit Italian American community.
As the sound of Italian music filled the air at the 20-minute cultural event, Vinci saluted his Italian lineage with friends, former and current soccer colleagues, and loved ones, including his wife, Joanne, and his son, Chris, daughter-in-law, Colleen, and grandson, Christian, 13, of Fairfield.
Along with descendants of folks from the old country, Vinci was also joined by his sister-in-law, Judy Marks, of North Haven, and an array of state, city and business leaders, including Democratic Sen. James J. Maroney, City Clerk Patricia C. Horvath and Simon McDonald, the director of membership and marketing for the Milford Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Vinci, 75, a Westie of nearly 50 years, also received an Italian flag from Paul M. Frosolone, the president of the West Haven Italian American Civic Association, and Roberta Daniels DeFonce, a past president of the association’s Ladies Auxiliary.
Vinci told the crowd, some donning red, white and green, that he appreciated the recognition and thanked the many players, coaches, referees and league officials he has mentored throughout his 38 years of service — and counting — to West Haven Youth Soccer.
“My grandparents would be proud — I know they’re smiling down,” said Vinci, who lives with his wife of 37 years on Ocean Avenue near West Shore’s Lake Street Beach. “The best day of the year is the first day of the (soccer) season. I want to thank everybody!”
Rossi read a mayoral citation praising Vinci’s civic-minded contributions, saying: “As a second-generation Italian resident of our city, I hope you reflect with pride on the innumerable lives you have inspired on and off the field. I admire your devotion to shaping the principles of West Haven Youth Soccer — sportsmanship, responsibility, teamwork — and to upholding the values that make our city, state and country great.”
Rossi then presented Vinci with an embroidered “Italian American of the Year” jacket.
The ceremony included remarks by her executive assistant, Louis P. Esposito Jr., the master of ceremonies. It also included a blessing by Vertical Church Pastor Frank Aprea, the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Ana Garcia and the playing of the Italian national anthem, “II Canto degli Italiani.”
An Italian-flavored lunch after the event was catered by Lorenzo’s Restaurant of West Haven in the First Congregational Church’s Fellowship Hall, at 464 Campbell Ave. opposite City Hall on the Green. Two cakes were provided by Costco of Milford.
Since 1984, Vinci has given back to the community through the game of soccer, serving as a coach, referee and league official.
Above all, he enjoyed coaching his son’s teams, joking, “Chris left, and I didn’t.”
After longtime league President Paul Duffy stepped down, Vinci, then the vice president, assumed the presidency in 2001.
Since then, Vinci has grown the soccer league into “the largest youth sports league for boys and girls in Connecticut.”
His support of all things West Haven Youth Soccer, established in 1978, is so revered that the league named the field at Pagels Elementary School in Vinci’s honor.
His dedication to the league is complemented by his service to the community he calls home, a lifework that includes raising awareness and money for the West Haven Breast Cancer Awareness Program.
Each year in recognition of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the league hosts a Columbus Day weekend tournament at The Paul Duffy Soccer Complex next to Bailey Middle School. This year’s tourney, a field of 50 teams from across the state, kicks off Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 8-9.
According to Vinci, players don pink uniforms and use pink balls. The league even paints pink lines on the field instead of the customary white to increase breast cancer awareness.
Best of all, some of the tournament’s proceeds and raffles, along with a breast cancer ribbon sticker fundraiser, benefit the city’s breast cancer program, with more than $20,000 collected to date, Vinci said.
In observance of Italian American Heritage Month, West Haven recognizes the unique and vibrant traditions of Americans of Italian descent and celebrates the story of generations of Italian sons and daughters who came to the U.S. seeking hope and opportunity to reach for the American dream.
Vinci’s paternal grandparents left their home in central Italy and came to America for a brighter future, arriving on New York’s Ellis Island in the early 1920s and settling in the upstate New York town of Whitehall, the state’s smallest town, bordering Vermont.
In the intrepid spirit of Italians who charted a course for millions of immigrants who followed their crossing to America, Vinci and his grandparents are a testament to the diversity and promise of the United States.
Vinci was born and raised in Cohoes, New York, a city in the northeast corner of Albany County. He graduated from La Salle Institute, a Catholic college preparatory school in Troy, New York, and the University of Rochester.
Now retired, Vinci was employed as a senior technical director in the information technology department at AT&T. He was also an IT executive at SBC Communications and the Southern New England Telephone Co. All three telecommunications companies had operated in New Haven.