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Garfield's Critelli Retires

April 11, 1993|ENRIQUE LAVIN and CHARLES SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Garfield High boys' soccer Coach Tony Critelli, known as a "soccer radical" for spearheading the creation of a soccer league in the Los Angeles Unified School District, retired last week.

Critelli worked 27 years as a special-education teacher at Garfield and was the school's soccer coach for 20 years. He won a record five City Section titles, the first in 1972.

"I've put in my time," said Critelli, 61, who has won 14 league titles at Garfield. "I've been involved in the real estate market, and it's turned out to be lucrative, demanding all of my time."

A Brooklyn native, Critelli graduated from San Jose State in 1959 where he was named an All-American soccer player. In 1966 he started teaching at Garfield, after the former chairman of special education, Ted Davis, recruited him from Jordan High.

"He used to give up his lunch periods to play soccer with the students," Davis said. "When he got enough attention from the parents to petition (a league), the athletic director wrote a letter to (Garfield's) principal saying: 'You have a soccer nut out there.' "

When a league was created in 1972, Critelli coached Garfield to the City's first soccer championship. More City titles followed in 1976, 1981, 1985 and 1992.

"I have great respect for him," said Belmont Coach Nancy Carr-Swaim, whose squad lost 2-1 to Garfield. "I remember he had four championships under his belt and after the game I asked him, 'Couldn't you have let me have it once?' "

Critelli's last hurrah was less than climatic. Garfield, the 1992 defending champions, failed to qualify for the playoffs in January because of a controversial game in which Critelli was ejected and the match was forfeited. "It came as a shock to a degree. But in all honesty, those things happen in life, and I accept," he said.

Though he believes he's at his peak as a coach, Critelli does not plan to return to coaching at the high school level. "The doors are open. . . . I might consider coaching on the college level," said Critelli, who coached East Los Angeles College to its first state championship in 1975.

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