NORTHEAST GLENDALE — As a sophomore at UC Santa Barbara, Brittany Bagheri has plenty of responsibilities that she must attend to.
While juggling her busy schedule, which includes her studies and playing on an intramural girls’ soccer team, Bagheri will make the 100-mile trek south back to the Glendale area to participate on the American Youth Soccer Organization 88 girls’ under-19 team.
There’s a purpose dear to her heart for making the journey — to honor her former mentor, Leo Nedeff. Nedeff, a former volunteer coach, referee, administrator and mentor from AYSO Region 88 — serving Glendale and La Crescenta — succumbed to mesothelioma on July 11, 2004 at 72.
Bagheri was one of more than 300 players who participated in the sixth annual Leo Nedeff Memorial Soccer Tournament, which was held Friday through Sunday at the Glendale Sports Complex.
“Leo was a fantastic person and he mentored me and made me knowledgeable about soccer,” said Bagheri, a sweeper. “If I ever had a question about something relating to soccer I would just go and ask him.
“He was like a grandfather to me and I miss him very much. Just the way he lived, he enjoyed everything about life and soccer. That’s why I’m here to keep honoring him.”
Twenty-six girls’ teams, between the ages of 8-18, from Glendale to La Habra to the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys flocked to the complex to take part in multiple matches throughout the weekend. AYSO Region 88 Commissioner Aldo Mascheroni said between 300-350 players participated in the event.
The event used to feature boys’ and girls’ teams taking part on the same weekend, but a rise in popularity forced the groups to have their separate tournaments. A similar boys’ tournament will be held June 19-20 at the same venue.
“Every year it’s gotten bigger,” Mascheroni said. “The interest in soccer has been incredible and I can see it getting bigger.
“A lot of people and referees here are volunteers and a lot of them knew Leo. They are here to honor his memory because not only was he a mentor for our region, but also the surrounding areas. When you refereed, he would tell you to look and act like one. That exudes a lot of respect because you want to be an authority on the field.”
Nearly 100 referees were on hand to officiate more than 60 matches on the four fields, including Shane Hannessian of Glendale.
Hannessian said he got involved with refereeing about 12 years ago because of Nedeff.
“My son was 4 or 5 years old at the time and my wife brought him to the field to sign up,” Hannessian said. “She came to me and said I was going to be a referee after she talked to Leo.
“So that was my [introduction] to him and he helped me get started. Everything I learned was through him and he was the man to follow because he had put a lot of time into it because he loved doing it.”
Jordan Nedeff, Leo’s son, said his father wanted to be a positive role model for younger officials and the plethora of athletes he watched handle their respective roles on the field.
“He just loved the sport and the participation part of it because it was about making a difference,” said Nedeff, a former Glendale Community College men’s soccer player. “He was a volunteer who dedicated himself to the game that he loved.
“He had that good mentoring ability because he wanted to motivate somebody and help them advance in their career.”