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RYFA remembers Melville, Pucci

On the scoreboard at field No. 7 of the Rochester Youth Football Association complex, it now reads: Austin Melville Field.

Next to it, on the scoreboard of field No. 8: Ralph Pucci Field.

The formal dedications happened this past Saturday for both deceased Rochester men. Melville, a nine-year referee at RYFA games, died this past November after being struck by a drunk driver while crossing a Rochester street. The Century and Winona State graduate was just 23 years old.

Pucci, the former longtime Rochester Mayo head football coach, had segued from coaching at the high school level to spending a season as a RYFA coach. He died shortly after suffering a heart attack at field No. 8, in 2006. He was 70.

Relatives and friends from both families described the men similarly. These were football guys, for sure. But an even bigger thread running through them was their shared love for people, especially kids.

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The mixture of the two — football and youth — well, that was just right.

"Austin loved those little guys that he refereed," said his mother, Sandy. "He loved hearing them talk all about their games. They were just learning the game, and he loved being a part of that."

Pucci’s wife, Judy, had forever watched her husband take in kids of all ages. The football field, for him, was the perfect place to do it. That’s why he spent 22 years as Mayo’s head coach, then found himself at the age of 70 directing traffic at field No. 8 of the RYFA complex, where his grandson Andrew was a member of his team.

It was pure joy for him.

"Ralph liked little kids, middle ones and big ones," Judy said. "I think it is very appropriate that he now has his name over there on that scoreboard. He was good with kids. He taught Sunday school. The kids all liked Mr. Pucci. He wasn’t just a coach."

As much as Melville loved football, he stopped playing it shortly after leaving Rochester youth football, for high school. It wasn’t that the hankering to play had left him. It’s that trying to play it in hot weather had a fierce effect on his body. With practices beginning in the dog-days of August, it made it too tough.

So, instead of getting his fix as a player, he did it as a RYFA referee. He started that as a high school freshman, and he kept at it all the way through last season. Even in college, where he graduated Cum Laude with a degree in mass communications, Melville would made the trip from Winona to Rochester every Saturday of the RYFA season, eager to referee.

"He’d come home, I’d do his dirty laundry, and then he’d referee three to four games on Saturdays," Sandy said. "Austin was a football fanatic. It was his passion."

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Dan Glaser is the Director of Officials and Fields for the RYFA. He got to know Melville well, both in his dealings with him as an official and with what they discovered was a shared love for the Packers.

It was a strange and sad day for him recently when it came time to fill out who would be refereeing that first week of RYFA games. It had always been a given that Melville would be on that list.

"Austin was so willing to work and he was just an outstanding person," Glaser said. "He was always willing to pick up an extra game if someone didn’t show up. When I wrote down that first schedule this year, I almost automatically put his name down, I was so used to putting it down every week. It was tough. Austin loved football and he loved seeing the kids learning the game of football and having a good time out there. He just wanted to be a part of that."

After Saturday’s dedications, Melville and Pucci will forever be a part of Rochester youth football. Fields have been named after them.

Their names and their legacies live on.

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