The Manitoba soccer community is mourning the loss of a beloved coach. Riccardo De Thomasis, 34, passed away Thursday morning after a battle with terminal cancer.
A soccer player since the age of four, Fibrosarcoma ultimately eliminated his ability to walk and run in 2010. The disease may have taken away his ability to play soccer late in his life but it also strengthened his already deep passion to coach it. In May of 2012, De Thomasis took the reins of Winnipeg’s Under-14 South End United Boys, one of the most under-performing soccer clubs in their respective league in 2011. Under De Thomasis, the players started having fun and they started to win.
“I wish I knew how he got the respect he could get from a group of boys like that,” said parent and friend Jamie Brown Friday, “He would yell out on the field because he had to, but he never spoke to them with a raised voice. He always was very quiet and understated but he always had 100% of their attention.”
“He had a knack with kids.”
While was his team beating the odds in the first half of 2012, so was De Thomasis. Doctors told him he was in remission. But the cancer returned in June. De Thomasis said he struggled with how to deliver the news to his players.
“I had to be smart when I told them because I didn’t want it to interfere with our provincial championships (in August)”. Said De Thomasis in a September interview with Global News being named the station’s Coach of the Month.
“They’re 14-years-old. Some of them understand, some of them don’t. They already have enough to deal with as young teenagers and I didn’t want to complicate things with them.”
The squad went on to finish tops in Manitoba at the Provincial Championships and fourth in the entire country at the National U-14 Boy’s Championship in Ontario. Following a 3-0 loss, De Thomasis pledged that he and his team would be back but the cancer completely took over before the start of a new season.
Not only does De Thomasis leave behind an impression on those he coached, those in the Manitoba soccer community believe he will have an impact on kids who haven’t even kicked a ball yet. He helped grow the Winnipeg Mini Soccer League (WMSL), an indoor developmental program for youth ages 4-11 who are new to soccer. It’s expanded from 10 kids in 1996 to more than 600 presently. For Brown, it’s how his three children first got involved in soccer, and one of them, Findlay, came full circle to eventually play for the South United team that made it Nationals.
“I know for my son, Riccardo will always be one of the most important people in his life.” Said Brown.
According to his website, De Thomasis played senior league men’s soccer primarily with Winnipeg’s Ital-Inter Soccer Club until his health began to decline. His 16-year coaching career spanned almost every level in Manitoba. In April 2012, De Thomasis was presented with Volunteer Manitoba’s “Mayor’s Volunteer Service Award” in recognition of the WMSL’s contribution to recreation in Winnipeg.
The Manitoba Soccer Association released a statement to Global News Friday on De Thomasis’ passing:
“Riccardo showed his passion for the sport until his very last days. He demonstrated his desire to help all players and was devoted to becoming a better coach at all times. The soccer community has lost a good coach but most importantly a great human being. He touched many players, coaches, parents and colleagues in a very positive way and he was always optimistic and had a great attitude. The player was always his priority and many have learned much about soccer from him but also even more about life lessons. He will be truly missed and we are all very sad to have lost him. His passion will live forever in those he touched. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and all his friends.”