Dick Westbrook keeps looking over his shoulder, hoping he’ll be there. The longtime Visitation girls’ soccer coach still wonders. Will he pop in? Will he come back? Will we really go the whole season without him?
Westbrook is looking for his right-hand man, his brother in coaching, Val Pelizzaro. Pelizzaro, 80, hung up his whistle at the end of last soccer season. A St. Louis soccer-lifer, Pelizzaro has a mess of grandkids to chase, a lovely bride to spend more time with and other things that, at this point, take priority over soccer. “Now is the time to watch my grandkids,” Pelizzaro says.
A St. Mary’s graduate (Class of 1951), he grew up playing soccer in St. Louis’ Golden Age. And, in his time, was a true treasure. A midfielder for the powerhouse Kutis S.C. program, Pelizzaro helped the team win six Amateur Cup national championships from 1956 until 1961. In 1957, Kutis won the Amateur Cup and the Open Cup, which included professional teams, too. The rosters on those teams were a who’s who of local legends, including Harry Keough and Bill Eppy. The members of this team also would represent the United States in World Cup and Olympic qualifying.
Westbrook played against Pelizzaro in those days for a rival club and remembers vividly what it was like taking on his longtime assistant. “Val could run all day. I hated to play against him,” Westbrook says with a chuckle. “He was a pest.”
Pelizzaro never went to college. Instead, he landed a job with the Postal Service. He carried letters for 39 years on the city’s south side. He also served two years in the military during the Korean War.
His first foray into coaching turned out to be as successful as his playing days. When Keough took over Saint Louis University’s men’s team in 1967, he asked Pelizzaro to join his staff. They worked together until Keough left SLU in 1982, with five national titles to their credit. Pelizzaro remained on staff for head coach Joe Clark until 1997 when Clark took the same position at Washington University. Pelizzaro followed Clark and, in 2009, retired from coaching college soccer.
He was inducted into the St. Louis Soccer Hall of Fame in 1984, St. Mary’s Hall of Fame in 1993 and SLU’s Hall of Fame in 2003. He was given the Golden Boot Award by the CYC in November for his longtime service to soccer.
Pelizzaro started at Visitation in 1994 with Tommy Fernandez. When Westbrook was brought on in 1998 to coach the JV team, it didn’t take Pelizzaro long to figure out they were two peas in a pod. “We fell in right away,” Pelizzaro says. “We were on the same page more or less 100 percent of the time.”
The duo took over the varsity program in 2004 and won the state title that year, stunning defending champion John Burroughs in the quarterfinal. They have since added three more championships, including the last two.
This season has been a strange one for the Vivettes, if only because Pelizzaro’s guiding hands haven’t been around as much. He’s found his way to the bench a time or two to take in a match. But it’s not the same as having him there every day for training. “The girls just love him,” Westbrook says.
As he enters the next phase of his life, one that doesn’t have soccer as prominently involved, Pelizzaro’s resume speaks for itself as one of the most impressive this town has ever seen. “His is a great legacy in St. Louis,” Westbrook says.