Friday, June 20, 2008

Ronald J. Real 1937 ~ 2008; Hockey, football fan a real leader

Ronald J. Real 1937 ~ 2008

Hockey, football fan a real leader

Elmhurst man began 75,000-member sports association

| Special to the Tribune

June 20, 2008

Hockey was always Ronald J. Real's first love, but football never trailed far behind.

Mr. Real was a longtime publisher from the western suburbs who for years created newsletters for members of Chicago-area semi-pro mens hockey teams. But he asked himself why there weren't similar mens football leagues.

So the father of seven organized a small league of semi-professional football players, known then as the Minor Professional Football Association, which he headed for the last 29 years.

"The league was originally made up of former high school football players, guys whose college football careers never took off, and just about anyone who had enough heart and girth to play the game," said his son Rory.

Mr. Real, 70, a longtime Elmhurst resident, died of lymphoma Tuesday, June 10, in his Sarasota, Fla., home.

The group, now called the American Football Association, has about 75,000 active members and includes football players, coaches, administrators, trainers, officials and cheerleaders. It is recognized as the national association for semi-pro and minor league football organizations and provides services to about 800 teams in 62 leagues, covering 47 states and the District of Columbia.

"Ron had enormous respect and appreciation for the talent found in semi-pro football leagues," said Roman Strzala, a longtime association member and former football coach at Addison Trail High School. "If you'd ever met him, he'd overwhelm you with his enthusiasm, not only for the game, but for the players themselves."

Born in Chicago, Mr. Real grew up in Blue Island and surrounding suburbs. He was a graduate of Bremen High School in Midlothian, where he met his wife of 51 years, Cecilia. As a young man, Mr. Real owned a landscaping business and was later self-employed in various marketing jobs. He then started his own publishing company, Creative Business Services. Initially it was a home business, but he later ran it out of an Elmhurst office. He retired in 1996 and soon after moved with his wife to Sarasota.

"He always wanted to be his own boss," said his son, who now runs the family business with his two brothers in Bensenville.

Mr. Real was president of the football association until his death, family members said.

"Ron was an amazing leader," said Dave Burch, president of the association. "Certain times of the year we'd have championship games going on all over the country, but he never got rattled. No matter what happened, or how much work there was to do, he always made it fun."

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Real is survived by two other sons, Mike and Russ; four daughters, Sherry Davies, Ronda, Roxanne Knapp and Rae Ellen Pugliese, and 12 grandchildren.

Visitation will be held from 2 to 8 p.m. Friday in Pedersen-Ryberg Mortuary, 435 N. York St. Elmhurst. Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Saturday in Immaculate Conception Parish, 134 Arthur St., Elmhurst.,0,7520653.story

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