By John Hartsock, Altoona Mirror
During Jim Fee’s long career as an electro mechanical technician for Altoona’s SKF company, the company advocated what Fee said was a continuous program of improvement for an unlimited number of life ventures.
Fee chose the project of developing the sport of soccer in the Altoona area.
“I wanted to include everybody who was interested in reaching higher levels of soccer,’’ Fee, 71, a lifelong Altoona resident, said.
As a soccer player, coach, official, and league director over what has been a remarkable 56-year span, Fee has executed that project in admirable, seamless and exemplary fashion.
Fee — who was among a group of people who were instrumental in the early development of the Altoona Youth Soccer Association (AYSO), as well as the former Altoona Soccer Club — has been named the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame’s latest recipient of the Community Service Award.
Fee becomes the Blair Hall’s 11th Community Service Award recipient, and will be recognized at the Hall’s next induction ceremony at the Blair County Convention Center on April 13, 2024.
The previous inductees include John Conlon (1998), Johnny Robertson (2000), Tom Stout (2002), Harry Sickler (2004), Skip Dry (2006), Joe Reed and the Blair County Miracle League (2008), Sue Kovensky (2010), Ken Koronowski (2012), Bud Grazier (2014), and Carl Cacciotti (2016).
“Jim has been the ultimate leader of the soccer community for decades, serving in every capacity and is deserving of the Community Service Award,’’ Blair County Sports Hall of Fame president Neil Rudel said. “His grass-roots efforts and organization allowed so many kids and families to enjoy and grow soccer. We’re pleased to honor him.’’
Fee began his involvement in soccer as a coach after returning home from military service in the Vietnam War.
“I was not happy with the way that soccer was going in our community,’’ he said. “I was the (Altoona Area) High School coach at the time, and I consulted Penn State soccer coaches Walter Bahr and Barry Gorman, who urged me to get the AYSO program involved in the United States Youth Soccer organization.’’
That involvement started when Fee was running the AYSO program in 1988.
“The United States Youth Soccer organization has 55 youth state (branches), and Pennsylvania has two — which are known as the Pa. West and Pa. East,’’ Fee said of the U.S. Youth Soccer organization, which is directly linked to the United States Soccer Federation. “I was offered the job of being the district director for Pa. West and given the opportunity to develop soccer not only here in Blair County but throughout central Pennsylvania.’’
The U.S. Youth Soccer program offers opportunities for development and competition at several different skill levels for players ranging in age from five to 19 years old.
“I think that my greatest accomplishment over the years has been helping to get kids into college, because we had not been getting kids into college before for soccer,’’ said Fee, who is married and is a father and grandfather. “Soccer has really grown so much over the last five decades. Now, it is everywhere.’’
Fee eventually became the director of the former Altoona Soccer Club, which, with the efforts of another group of soccer enthusiasts, later joined forces with the Hollidaysburg Soccer Association to become what is now the Football Club 814 (FC 814) program.
Altoona Area High School girls soccer coach Marc Frye played soccer under Fee’s direction as both an Altoona High soccer player and Altoona Club soccer player many years ago.
“Jim has done a lot for soccer in this area,’’ Frye said. “He’s like the godfather of soccer here. When I see him, I still call him ‘Coach.’’’
Fee was pleasantly surprised when informed that he would be receiving the Community Service Award, which is determined after a public nomination or nominations.
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