For the past three decades – and long after her two boys ended their LYSA playing careers – Nina O’Leary has served as the backbone of Lexington’s original and biggest soccer organization, answering phones, registering players, organizing leagues, attending board meetings, troubleshooting problems, even filling in as a coach (Once was enough, she said) – whatever was needed to ensure kids can play soccer.
LYSA’s first-ever employee, Nina – as everyone knows her – officially retired at the end of 2012, but no one believes her relationship with LYSA is over.
She loves soccer too much and has given too much to the organization to sever ties completely.
And few have lent a more helping hand than Nina since LYSA was formed in 1977.
“She is the glue that keeps everything and everybody together,” said Debbie Goff, a former LYSA Board member.
“Oh my, she can get you motivated, get you going. Her love of soccer has just been phenomenal.”
Nina’s passion for soccer is an acquired taste – before LYSA she was a self-proclaimed non-sports person.
But when her sons and husband Joe embraced soccer, Nina realized she had to join the LYSA team.
“Sports was not my thing,” she said. “But it didn’t take me long to figure out, ‘Oh, oh. If this is their thing, I better get involved.’”
With the boys on teams, Nina and Joe joined the LYSA Board, Joe as director of the LYSA Select League and Nina as the part-time registrar – that’s part-time in quotes.
She is so capable that LYSA made her its first employee in 1985. Even after her sons moved on to college soccer – Sean, now 37, played defender at Centre College, and Brian, 34, was UK’s goalie – her passion for soccer never dimmed.
Of course not, she would say, there were still so many other kids to care about. She worked to ensure that other families benefited from LYSA as much as hers.
“What LYSA does is terrific,” she said. “We loved every stinking minute of competitive soccer. We traveled all over the place but we did it as a family.
“I wouldn’t trade one minute of the experience.”
Although Nina’s sons excelled at soccer, LYSA is not restricted to elite players. LYSA has youth and adult programs plus TOPSoccer for athletes of all ages with disabilities. All are teaching leagues, Nina said.
“No experience is necessary to play,” she said. “The same goes for kids and adults. LYSA will teach everyone how to play.
“It also teaches how to win, how to lose, how to be a part of a team.Soccer made my kids better, more confident people.”
As she wraps up her nearly 30-year career with the organization, Nina knows LYSA will be in good hands with her successor Tracey McGaughey.
Volunteer-based organizations need community-minded people like Nina – people willing to contribute long after their own families have benefited.
“Nina realized that LYSA was important for other people so she stayed with it,” said Ed Pavlik, a LYSA Board member since the 1980s. We will miss her sense of passion, her sense of history and her memory have been important to the organization.
“She has straightened us out many times over the years, and I have enjoyed working with her enormously.”