Rhode Island soccer coach dies
HUNTINGTON -- Tragedy struck Thursday prior to the opening ceremonies of the US Youth Soccer Region I Championships.
Joe Avila, coach of Rhode Island's Bruno United FC U18 Boys team, died after having a heart attack in the Pullman Plaza Hotel lobby in downtown Huntington, just hours before his team went through opening ceremonies at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, a US Youth Soccer official said.
Avila was 57.
Following the opening ceremonies, Fred Booth, manager of the Bruno FC United U-17 Boys team, said it was a difficult afternoon for the entire state.
"Everyone seems to be holding up okay, but everyone is in shock, especially the 18 boys," Booth said. "There are a lot of girls on the Rhode Island teams here that played for him in high school."
Avila's presence in Rhode Island's soccer landscape was unmistakable as he coached some of the top talent through the youth, high school and college ranks.
The veteran coach of three decades was a 1995 inductee into the New England Soccer Hall of Fame, which encompasses the greatest soccer minds from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont.
In addition to coaching the Bruno United FC U-18 boys team, Avila joined with good friend Mario Pereira to lead the Rhode Island Stingrays, a team in the USL Premier Developmental League.
He also was one of the most prominent high school coaches in Rhode Island.
Most recently, Avila had coached the La Salle Academy girls soccer program to consecutive Rhode Island state titles in 2008 and 2009, going a combined 29-0-3 in the two-year span.
Prior to his time at La Salle, he had two stints at Barrington (R.I.) High School -- one as boys soccer coach from 2002-07 and one as the girls soccer coach from 1989-98 when he won a pair of state championships (1991, 1992).
In between his stints at Barrington, he was the boys soccer coach at New Kingstown (R.I.) from 1999-2001. He won a state championship in 1999 and was named Rhode Island Coach of the Year in 2000 and 2001.
Avila also served as an assistant coach at Providence College and Bryant University.
Booth said he was just one of those guys that was all soccer all the time.
"He's played his whole life and still played," Booth said. "He just loved the game. That's who Joe was."
The Bruno United FC U-18 boys still went through opening ceremonies on Thursday and begin pool play at 8 a.m. Friday with a match against TSF Academic Celtic (N.J.) at Field 1 of the Barboursville Soccer Complex.
Booth said there is no better way to honor Avila than to continue on the soccer pitch.
"It affects so many different kids, whether it's the U-18 boys or the many high school girls here that he coached," Booth said. "They are all going to have to come together a little bit and hopefully play well in his memory."
There was a moment of silence before the start of the opening ceremonies in Avila's honor on Thursday.
Carolyn Thornton of the Providence Journal contributed to this report.