Abbot “Abbey” Leonard, a former Gouverneur High School coach, teacher and athletic director, who drew greater notice as a well-respected soccer official from the fields of the Northern Athletic Conference to the turf of NCAA championships, died last month at age 84.
Leonard, a 43-year veteran of officiating high school soccer games and a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame, died on June 17. He lived in Melbourne, Fla.
Leonard spent 35 years working as a physical education teacher, coach and athletic director at Gouverneur. He started officiating college soccer and basketball games in 1969. He continued to be a constant presence as an NAC boys and girls soccer official through 2011 when he officiated his last game, a Salmon River-Massena girls soccer game, at age 75.
Leonard, who also officiated Jefferson Community College men’s and women’s soccer games, was known as “a player’s referee,” preferring to let the athletes compete rather than dominating with the whistle.
“The best refs are people managers,” Leonard said in a Times story in 2011. “If you can manage people and you let them know you are fair and you have decent judgement, you’ll succeed.”
Leonard worked NCAA soccer championship games such as the Division III finals, the Big East men’s championship and the Southeast Conference and Sun Belt championships. He became president of the National Intercollegiate Soccer Official Association in 1995 and was inducted into the soccer hall of fame at the conclusion of his tenure in 1996.
Leonard was also a rules interpreter for the Northern New York Soccer Officials Association and New York State Intercollegiate Soccer Officials Association.
Leonard officiated the Big East championship men’s soccer game between Connecticut and Seton Hall in 1987. Leonard kept a color photograph that appeared in the Hartford Courant newspaper, showing him shaking his finger at two players who had gotten too physical. The photograph later appeared in soccer magazines and officiating journals.
Leonard became a popular leader of national clinics, traveling coast to coast, and taught many upcoming officials, including those in the NAC.
He became the organization’s chief clinician from 1986-88. He instructed officials in 14 states from Maine to California.
“I was somebody who could give a national perspective,” he said in a Times story in 1995. “You want the same type of game officiated on the East Coast as on the West Coast.”
Leonard, who started the soccer program at Gouverneur in the mid-1960s and coached three seasons with the team, retired from his physical education position at the school in the early 1990s but continued to coach the high school golf team. He was also former president of the Gouverneur Country Club.
Leonard, who often officiated soccer games five days a week through the 1990s, also worked basketball games into the late 1990s. Upon retirement, he was affiliated with the Mid-Coast Officials Association’s Basketball Officiating Team from 1999-2015.