Hicabi “Turk” Emekli, a Turkish immigrant and Catholic University graduate who played, coached and officiated soccer in the Washington area for more than a half-century, died Friday. He was 90.
The cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease, said his son, John Emekli, who cared for his father in Silver Spring, Md.
“My dad was a passionate pioneer who left a beautiful legacy with soccer and his family,” John said.
Born in Ankara, Emekli played in the Turkish league before moving to the United States in 1951. He attended Columbia University and, at age 28, enrolled at Catholic. Older than his teammates, he was the player-coach for three seasons. The Cardinals averaged seven goals per game during an unbeaten season in 1957 and won two conference championships. He coached Catholic for 21 seasons.
In 1968, he also coached the Washington Whips in the North American Soccer League, a first-year operation that would go on to introduce a generation of young Americans to the world’s most popular sport. In a 40-year career as a referee, Emekli officiated an estimated 7,500 games at various levels.
Nationally, he competed with traveling all-star teams and lectured at conventions.
In 2009, two years after receiving the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, he refereed his final match, at age 83.
In recent years, John would take his father, bound to a wheelchair, to Catholic matches and Washington Spirit games at Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds. Last spring, they traveled to New Jersey to watch the Spirit, who compete in the National Women’s Soccer League.
“Turk found great joy and inspiration” watching local teams, John Emekli said, “and simply going out and kicking a soccer ball.”
Besides his son, Emekli is survived by two daughters, Mahi and Nora, who live in Connecticut. Emekli’s ex-wife, Dolores, also lives in Connecticut. He had three grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held Saturday, Dec. 19, at 5 p.m. at Catholic University’s Pryzbyla Center. In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to the Catholic University soccer programs or NWSL.
[On a personal note, the column I wrote about Turk two years ago is one of my favorites. You can read it here.]