By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
Mayor Nancy R. Rossi and the West Haven Italian Heritage Committee will honor the city’s “Mr. Soccer” as the “primo italiano” at the 23rd annual Italian Heritage Celebration.
West Haven Youth Soccer League President John Vinci, a proud ambassador of his rich Italian heritage, will receive the Italian American of the Year award at noon Friday at City Hall, 355 Main St.
The award is bestowed annually on an Italian resident or couple who personifies service in the city’s close-knit Italian American community.
Accompanied by Italian music and guided by Rossi, members of the committee and the West Haven Italian American Civic Association will escort Vinci to the steps of City Hall for his special recognition. An Italian-flavored lunch will follow.
“(The Italian American award) is an honor, something I never even thought of,” said Vinci, the grandson of immigrant grandparents from the family’s namesake city of Vinci in the region of Tuscany, Italy. “My grandparents would be proud.”
Vinci, 75, a Westie of nearly 50 years, will pay homage to his Italian lineage with scores of friends and loved ones, along with an array of dignitaries and descendants of folks from the old country clad in red, white and green.
His 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.
“I am thrilled to recognize John Vinci as our Italian American of the Year,” Rossi said. “John has been the lifeblood of West Haven Youth Soccer for many years, and his commitment to his athletes and his community is why he is overdue for this recognition.”
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 said he enjoyed coaching his son Chris’ 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 tournament, a field of 50 teams from across the state, will kick off Saturday and Sunday.
According to Vinci, players don pink uniforms and use pink balls. The league even paints pink lines on the field instead of the traditional 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 culture 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.
At the City Hall ceremony, Rossi will present Vinci, West Haven’s top “paisano” of 2022, with an embroidered “Italian American of the Year” jacket and a mayoral citation for his civic-minded contributions and volunteerism.
He will also receive an Italian flag from Paul M. Frosolone, the president of the Italian American Civic Association, and Roberta Daniels DeFonce, a past president of the association’s Ladies Auxiliary.
The cultural event will include remarks by Rossi and her executive assistant, Louis P. Esposito Jr., the master of ceremonies. It will also include an Italian blessing and the singings of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the Italian national anthem, “II Canto degli Italiani.”
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.
Vinci, now retired, 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 formerly operated in New Haven.
Vinci and his wife, Joanne, live on Ocean Avenue near West Shore’s Lake Street Beach.