Bob Leventhal died last week at the age of 88. With his passing, the sports community has lost a part of our soccer history and a friend.
When I first started coaching soccer at Johnson in 1982, Bob was the head coach at Riverside Military Academy and Gene “Mr. B” Beckstein was at the helm at Gainesville. At that time, we were the only soccer act in town, except for Lakeview Academy, which started playing in the state fall program.
Ironically, Gainesville and Johnson were not main rivals; we needed each other for the programs to survive. In the early 1980s, there was a segment of the community that proclaimed that soccer was “a communist plot to do away with American football.” The Johnson boys always regarded Athens Academy as their adversary.
Neither Gene’s squad nor mine could match the Riverside powerhouse that existed at that time. As a coach, it became my aspiration to defeat a Leventhal-coached team. Eventually, a decade later, JHS had the guns to take down the cadets. But I never did win against a team coached by Bob, something he jokingly often would remind me of over the years.
Bob ran camps for the youth, officiated and loved the sport as so many do. He also, along with myself, Dr. Chip Branch, Mani Costa and Larry Ginder, founded the Georgia Mountain Soccer Association (presently the Lanier Soccer Association), which established organized soccer in the area as part of the Georgia State Soccer Association. Bob served as the first commissioner of the league, coached several of the youth teams and was part of the referee delegation.
In retirement, he continued with the youth camps and to a generation of kids became known as the “cookie man” at a bakery venue at the Lakeshore Mall. He also worked several years at the Georgia Mountains Center. Bob had that New England sense of humor that would always put a smile on your face. More important, he was a devoted husband and father.
The game of soccer has matured and grown in our area since Bob’s tenure at Riverside. Those early years were always fun and will be missed. The coaches were a close circle of friends, and the players all knew each other on and off the field.
Thanks, Bob, for being part of this special time and all you did for the youth in Hall County.