At Christmas dinners, Peter Ramsey forced family members to watch videos he’d recorded at the Schwan’s USA Cup in Blaine, thousands of miles away from his native England.
Ramsey worked as an English teacher at the high school and community college levels, but the USA Cup was his greatest passion.
He talked incessantly to his cousin, Brenda Harrison, about friends he’d made at the annual youth soccer tournament. Harrison knew she’d never meet most of them, but she watched the videos, anyway.
“I knew how important it was to him,” Harrison said. “I don’t think I realized until recently how many lives he touched.”
Two months before the tournament’s 33rd rendition, the 65-year-old Ramsey was killed in a car accident in his hometown of Sunderland. This would’ve been his 22nd year at the USA Cup
Ramsey worked at the tournament as a referee before becoming a referee assessor. He also worked year-round on recruiting other referees from Great Britain.
At Ramsey’s funeral, Harrison met many of the referees her cousin had become friends with, both at the USA Cup and through his work as a referee tutor with The Football Association of England. Some asked to be pallbearers.
“We’re all part of a bigger family,” said Donald MacKinnon, the tournament’s lead referee assessor. “Once you become a referee, you’re a referee for life.”
Ramsey’s primary job at the USA Cup was entering each referee’s assessment into a spreadsheet. MacKinnon said his friend did “absolute miracles” on a computer.
Under Ramsey’s guidance, the USA Cup application for UK referees expanded from two pages to 10. It required the referees’ takeoff and landing times for their trips to Minnesota, as well as all of the medications they took.
Ramsey, showing the English teacher in him, debated MacKinnon about the use of the term “personality” on the referee assessment form. They searched for a more appropriate term.
“Sadly, we never got to find what that other word is,” MacKinnon said. “We miss him so much.”
The tragic night
The night of Ramsey’s accident, he had gone to dinner with Trevor Wing, the UK coordinator for USA Cup referees. They had just held their monthly meeting regarding the USA Cup. After struggling to upload information about four of the referees coming to Blaine, they contacted tournament officials in Minnesota and went to a restaurant for steak and chips. Ramsey didn’t pay, because he never paid.
“He was tight,” Wing said lightheartedly. “Let’s put it that way.”
After dinner, once Wing had uploaded all of the referees’ information, he called Ramsey. A police officer answered.
Wing had known Ramsey for almost three decades. Now he was learning that Ramsey’s car had hit a roundabout and dropped about 15 feet into a gully. Medics airlifted him to a hospital, and Wing told police what medications Ramsey was on — information he knew because Ramsey had required it in the referee application form.
“When we saw him, everything was all mangled,” Wing said of his friend. “It was a bad scene, so I immediately wouldn’t allow anyone to come in. I wanted everyone to remember Peter as Peter was.”
Life without him
MacKinnon said he heard Ramsey’s voice in his head as he flew to America for the USA Cup. Wing and MacKinnon room together in the National Sports Center dormitories each year, and Ramsey insisted on having the room next to them.
There are more foreign referees at the USA Cup than any other tournament in the United States, according to the National Sports Center’s Steve Olson, who oversees the group. Refereeing the tournament is a social experience, a chance to meet people from around the world with the same passion.
So Harrison can think of no better way to honor her cousin than with the scholarships the National Sports Center is creating to help fund the trips for two referees, one male and one female, to come to the USA Cup each year.
There are plans to plant a tree on the National Sports Center campus in Ramsey’s honor, too. Harrison said she will likely never travel to Minnesota to see the tree herself, but she’ll see pictures of it from Wing.
And after watching so many of her cousin’s videos from the USA Cup, she feels like she’s been here.