As a standout collegiate goalkeeper, Pete Zopfi spent his time making saves on the soccer pitch.
These days, as J. Peter Zopfi, D.O., he makes very different saves — in the Emergency Department and surgery suites at NorthBay Medical Center in Fairfield.
Still, the chief of staff at NorthBay Healthcare manages to balance a demanding surgical career with a lifelong passion for the world’s most popular sport. After years as a player, coach and administrator for youth soccer in the state, Dr. Zopfi was elected board chairman of the U.S. Youth Soccer Association last July.
He’ll blend his medical expertise with his knowledge of youth sport and injury prevention on Saturday when he joins a distinguished group of experts speaking at a NorthBay Healthcare symposium focused on brain injuries. Titled, “Youth & Sports: What Everyone Should Know About Concussions,” it is a free event, open to the public from 3 to 5 p.m. at NorthBay Healthcare’s Green Valley Administration Center, 4500 Business Center Drive, Fairfield.
“It’s important to know how to detect concussions,” Dr. Zopfi said. “It’s not like a broken bone. Concussions are silent. Fortunately, in my profession, I deal with them every day and for me it’s almost second-nature to identify someone that has one. Knowing what to do can make a big difference.”
U.S. Youth Soccer is the largest youth sports organization in the country with more than 3 million participants. The board Dr. Zopfi now heads makes vital decisions on finance, securing sponsorships, looking at risk-management, fighting the battle against sexual abuse, and studying the effects of concussion and other injuries on young athletes. The board also coordinates the education and training of all referees, coaches and parents.
One of the biggest battles in youth soccer is trying to keep it available for all children, regardless of ability or economic standing. It can be big business at times for those participating in costly, competitive traveling teams. But Dr. Zopfi sees soccer as a game that is great for kids of all abilities and cites the example of the U.S. Youth Soccer’s “TOPSoccer” program that reaches out to kids with special needs.
“I really appreciate what youth give us as a society, the ability to be better as a whole,” Dr. Zopfi said. “I think if you can give to the youth, you are giving to the future. It might sound grandiose, but I think it’s a very simple truth that if you treat kids right they will turn around and treat society and the future right. Sports is an easy way to get kids engaged and a great place to mentor them.”
Dr. Zopfi’s role as chairman also comes with a seat on the board of the U.S. Soccer Federation, which oversees among other things the national men’s and women’s teams. He and his wife Kim will head to France in June for the Women’s World Cup.
A native of Napa, Dr. Zopfi honed his soccer skills as a youth playing in the area Latin leagues. There was no other competitive youth program at the time. He became a talented goalkeeper in middle school and eventually at Vintage High School, where he earned a soccer scholarship to the University of San Francisco.
“In seventh grade over at Redwood (Middle School), I remember coach Bob Soper telling us we were going to do soccer,” Dr. Zopfi recalled. “He said, ‘I want all of you who think that you are forwards, midfielders and defenders to get up and start running laps, and those of you that think you are goalkeepers to go down there to the goal and talk about goalkeeping.’ OK, run laps or talk about goalkeeping. True story. I went down to the goal and was a goalkeeper ever since.”
At USF, he was part of the 1976 Division I National Championship team. But Dr. Zopfi soon became laser focused on medicine and transferred to UC Davis, continuing a soccer career while finishing his undergraduate work before heading to Pomona for medical school and later a surgical residency in Dayton, Ohio, and elective surgical training in Columbus, Ohio.
Without soccer, there would be no medical career, he said. The extra money the athletic scholarship gave him helped him get to where he is today.
“I came from a relatively poor family, rich in heart, but poor in finances,” he said. “With the soccer scholarship, some other scholarships and working, as well, I was able to finish my college career and go on and become a physician.”
Dr. Zopfi and Kim, also a soccer enthusiast, moved to Fairfield in 1991 and quickly both began coaching at various levels throughout the city, from youth to high school. From the beginning, medicine and soccer were the focus of much of his time. While Dr. Zopfi worked at NorthBay, he was also head coach (boys and girls) at Armijo High School for many years. And Kim Zopfi was the first head coach (boys and girls) at Rodriguez High School when it was founded in 2001.
All five of their children grew up playing soccer. There are now five grandchildren.
“I’ve had the privilege to coach a lot of teams,” he said. “I think the thing I’m proudest of is that I have the opportunity now to meet a number of former players and see how they’ve grown up and the type of people they have become. You realize that you may have had a positive impact on them. We have a big Halloween display every year at home and the kids that I coached are now bringing their kids by to see the display.”
Dr. Zopfi also refereed many matches and eventually moved into administrative roles throughout the city. He was the chairman of the California Youth Soccer Association North for nine years, which eventually led to his current election as national chairman of the U.S. Youth Soccer.
His work in medicine and soccer provide similar rewards, he said.
“It’s kind of the same,” he said. “You are helping people.”
Along with Zopfi, Saturday’s panel will include Neil Pathare, M.D., NorthBay Orthopedic Surgeon, Sports Medicine; Rick Vacarro, Fairfield City Council member; and Bennet Omalu, M.D., whose own personal story was captured in the movie “Concussion.”
For more information, visit NorthBay.org/concussion. Space is limited. RSVP by visiting the website or call (707) 474-4822. Check-in will be from 2:30-3 p.m. with light refreshments served.