On Monday, July 19, Joe Manfre stepped onto the soccer field at Cedar Lane Regional Park and blew his whistle.
One might ask, so what is the big deal?
By doing so, Manfre reached a milestone that many referees, officials and umpires are hard pressed to match. July 19, 2021 marked 50 years of refereeing soccer for Manfre. That’s right, 50 years.
How many of us can say we have the dedication, perseverance and commitment to such an accomplishment? One of only four Marylanders to be inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame, Manfre found his passion for the game growing up on the iconic neighborhood streets of Highlandtown in East Baltimore.
Home to so many Baltimore soccer legends, Meatball (everyone was assigned a nick name in Highlandtown) quickly followed the footsteps of those before him. An outstanding goalkeeper for Patterson High School and The University of Baltimore, Manfre also played professionally with the Baltimore Bays.
It was Harry Young, however, who coaxed Manfre to pick up the whistle in 1971, launching his referee career.
After numerous NCAA Finals, Professional Outdoor matches and a lengthy career as an outstanding referee in the Major Indoor Soccer League, Manfre transitioned and began to assign collegiate and high school soccer games. What is more impressive than the number of high-level games he has been part of, is the number of referees he has mentored and taken under his tutelage over those years.
So, to honor Manfre’s accomplishments and his leadership over the span of 50 years, many referees, coaches and friends from all over the state, showed up at the beginning of the match to recognize and applaud his accomplishments.
At 74, the legs are not what they used to be, but his approach, his work ethic and the love for the game still shine bright.
So, the next time you see someone officiating a game, thank them because without them, all you have is a scrimmage.