Today I write about an extraordinary man and truly remarkable project being created in his honor. Umberto Abronzino was born in 1920 in Sessa Aurunca, Italy. He played soccer for the Lauro di Sessa team, before he immigrated to the United States in 1937 as an experienced, highly regarded soccer player. Umberto worked as a barber in Hartford, Connecticut while playing for and managing several teams in the area until 1952.
He then moved to the West Coast, settling in San Jose where he opened a barbershop. His love for soccer and unbridled energy led him to help organize the Peninsula Soccer League. He served in a variety of capacities for the league, including secretary/treasurer. The league began with just four teams but has since grown to dozens of teams and is now an affiliate of the United States Soccer Federation. The league was actually run out of Umberto’s barbershop until his death in 2006.
Mr. Abronzino also organized a Sons of Italy soccer team in San Jose in 1959, helped organize California North Youth Soccer and served on the U.S. Soccer National Amateur Cup’s organizing committee. He worked for many years as a referee and served as the MasterCard Ambassador of Soccer for Italy in the World Cup.
I hope you understand what an amazing man Umberto Abronzino was, and why he was inducted into the California Soccer Association Hall of Fame in 1964 and into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1971.
San Jose’s Watson Park has long been the hub of soccer activity in Santa Clara Valley, hosting leagues and tournaments at all levels and players of all ages. When Watson Park was re-opened in 2011, after several years of toxic clean up, the soccer bowl was named for Umberto Abronzino.
An important part of the plan to rebuild Watson Park was installing a field house to provide locker rooms for teams using the bowl. This field house would also have office space, and a community room for meetings, historical photos and mementos. Budget reductions caused this part of the plan to be cut.
A group of citizens, led by community activist and soccer devotee Don Gagliardi, has taken on the task of getting the field house built and will name it after Umberto Abronzino. San Jose Earthquakes’ Steve Beitashour is the celebrity spokesperson for the project, which has the support of the San Jose soccer community.
Fundraising for the project is being jointly conducted through San Jose Parks Foundation under the name, The Abronzino Fund. So far, about $20,000 has been raised through a grassroots campaign. You may check out San Jose Parks Foundation’s website to learn more about the project. This Field House will serve thousands of youth for decades to come, including those kids who need it most.
James P. Reber is the executive director of San Jose Parks Foundation, a veteran nonprofit entrepreneur and experienced special event planner and producer. He can be reached at [email protected] or 408.893.PARK.