Born: June 8, 1956
William Gazonas was born June 8, 1956 in Trenton. Small, quick and powerful, he was built perfectly for soccer, a game he played from boyhood on. From the age of 11, Billy was coached by Al Miller. He honed his game against older boys and men in organized league and informal pickup games. By the time he enrolled at St. Anthony’s High School in Trenton (now Trenton Catholic Academy), he was head and shoulders above his teammates in terms of skill and experience. Although he stood just 5’5” and weighed a mere 125 pounds, Billy was a heavyweight in New Jersey soccer. St. Anthony’s won the state championship in his senior year, as Billy overcame a knee injury.
Billy’s dream was to play in the North American Soccer League. He knew he’d need some seasoning in college, and accept a scholarship from Hartwick College in upstate New York. The Warriors were coached bt Timo Liekoski and had one of the nation’s top teams at the time. Billy stepped in at midfield and almost immediately became the team’s top star. Ironically, he was not even the best player in town. Farrukh Quraishi won the Hermann Trophy for SUNY Oneonta, whose campus was literally 5 minutes away.
As a freshman in 1974, Billy started on the bench but eventually became a starter and led Hartwick to the NCAA Tournament. The Warriors upset UConn 2–0 in the quarterfinals before falling to Howard in the semis, 2–1. In the national consolation game, Hartwick beat UCLA 3–1. Two years later, Hartwick made it back to the tournament semifinals under new coach Jim Lennox, but lost to Indiana in a game they dominated for all but a few minutes.
In Billy’s senior year, he won the Hermann Trophy and was a First-Team All-American. He and John Young led the Warriors to an undefeated season. They beat Brown 4–1 in the NCAA Tournament semis, and upended the two-time defending champion San Francisco Dons in the finals 2–1 to capture the national championship. A then-record 16,500 fans watched the game.
The NASLwas starting to come into its own in the late 1970s, and Billy was the #1 pick in the college draft, by the Tulsa Roughnecks. He distinguished himself as one of the league’s most creative midfielders in three seasons with Tulsa and one with the Calgary Boomers. Billy also played indoor soccer during this time, and helped the New York Arrows win the 1981 MISL championship with 16 goals in 37 games. He played with the Kansas City Comets in the years that followed and joined the coaching staff in 1985. He coached several more years in Kansas City before leaving the professional game.
The Gazonas name remained prominent in New Jersey soccer after his playing days. In 1998, Billy was enshrined in the Mercer County Soccer Hall of Fame. Later, the state’s Midfielder of the Year award was named in Billy’s honor. Billy’s daughter, Colette, followed in his footsteps and was one of the state’s top prep players for the Peddie School.
NJ Soccer History
It Happened in Jersey