NORTHEAST GLENDALE — The second and final day of the sixth annual Leo Nedeff Memorial Soccer Tournament happened to land on Father's Day.
The appropriate nature of the coincidence wasn't lost on many of the volunteers, coaches and players who attended and participated in the American Youth Soccer Organization tournament at the Glendale Sports Complex named in honor of Nedeff, who was a dedicated family man in his own right, as well being widely acknowledged as the father of modern youth soccer officiating in the region.
"I'm sure he's tickled pink wherever he is," said Jordan Nedeff, who on Saturday donned the yellow and black pinstriped referee jersey in honor of his late father, a former volunteer coach, referee, administrator and mentor who tirelessly served AYSO Region 88, which covers Glendale and La Crescenta, until he passed away in 2004 at age 72 after a battle with mesothelioma. "We all have mentors and that's what he was about. He was a man that had a lot integrity and character. Big shoes to fill for me on a Father's Day, but that's what we're here for, we're all about the mentoring."
Twenty-eight boys' teams in four different age brackets, from 10-and-under all the way to under-19, came from near and far — one team was down from Central California — to compete.
For the second straight year, the girls' portion of the event was held on a separate weekend to accommodate the large volume of attendance.
"It's fun, I enjoy the competition," said 12-year-old Christopher Gris of Burbank, who played on the Glendale United 10-11 All-Stars. "It's a higher level of competition. We have to try our hardest to play and can't give up, you have to run the whole game."
While it's a huge draw for teams looking for a good challenge, a unique aspect of the Nedeff Tournament is that its truly a referee's tournament.
AYSO referees from the national and regional level literally line up to officiate games at the tournament in an unprecedented show of support for Leo Nedeff's legacy.
"We're really blessed with all the great referees that come back every year," Nedeff said. "We've got national referees sitting down just waiting to get games, national referees doing [under-10 matches]. That's unheard of, but I think it's a tribute to my father and how many people he touched and what he meant to this organization."
Alfred Abkarian is a national AYSO referee who credits Leo Nedeff with molding him as an official and he doesn't miss a chance to participate in the tournament.
"It's tough to stay fair, so integrity, I think, is Number One as a referee," Abkarian said. "That's what I learned from Leo.
"Leo was the one who pushed me through all levels to get all the way to the top and he was very tough one me. At times I thought he just didn't like me, but afterwards I found out the reason he was so tough on me is because he cared. He will always be my mentor."
Aldo Mascheroni, who co-organized the event along with Frank Bagheri, said Leo Nedeff set a standard of integrity and conduct that still inspires many today.
"One of the things he wanted to make sure was that the referees were the authority on the field," Mascheroni said. "Number One, you exude that authority by dressing properly, by behaving properly and by being compassionate toward the children.
"A lot of people here that were mentored by Leo are still in the program because they were mentored by Leo's influence on them — me being one of them."