Bosnians, Croatians and Kosovars come together for soccer tournament

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CECIL – Everyone who knew Fevzi Leka described him, first and foremost, as a hardworking man. When violence erupted in his native land of Kosovo in the late ’90s, Leka and his family came to the United States to start a new life.


Leka worked at a grocery store in the North Hills until he was hired at the Iceoplex in Cecil Township’s Southpointe business park. Leka loved soccer, and his family said he would be proud to see the first Fevzi Leka Invitational indoor soccer tournament kick off at the Iceoplex Sunday.


Leka died in a car accident while visiting family in Kosovo last year. His co-workers at the Iceoplex hope his memory will live on through the sport he loved.


First- and second-generation Bosnians, Croatians and Kosovars now living in the North Hills area were invited to participate in the “just for fun” tournament. Soccer lovers of all ages stayed after the games ended to enjoy a traditional meal of roasted lamb and to watch the Barcelona-Madrid soccer match.


“Our tournament is to honor (Leka), and at the same time, to spread world peace,” said Steve Lynch, president of the Iceoplex. “Peace takes movement every day a little bit at a time, so that’s what we’re working on.”


Lynch said he has been working with refugees from Kosovo and Bosnia for the past 15 years. Several armed conflicts took place in that region of southeastern Europe in the ’90s, leading many refugees to come to the United States.


Leka, his wife Fikrije and their three young children spent five months in a refugee camp, where soldiers severely beat Leka and other prisoners of war.


When Leka’s family had the opportunity to come to the United States in 1999, they became the first Kosovar refugees to move to the North Hills. With assistance from Catholic Charities, the Bosnian and Kosovar community in the Pittsburgh area quickly grew.


Lynch owned the apartment building the Leka family moved into, and soon after, he hired Leka to work for him at the Iceoplex.


“He was a guy we could always count on,” Lynch said. “It didn’t matter what time you needed him, he would be there.”


Shkurte Leka, 16, described her father as “loving, caring and funny” and said it’s nice to see he has not been forgotten.


“Everywhere he go, he just laugh – just smile, smile, smile,” Fikrije Leka said.


Fikrije said her late husband loved his job – even waking up at 4 a.m. – and played soccer every Sunday in the summer.


Drazen Krajina, 30, originally from Bosnia, used to work at the Iceoplex and said Leka was an all-around good person.


“He was very warm,” Krajina said. “He always made sure that you didn’t get in trouble for anything that you did wrong – it was on him. He was one of those people – nice, polite, high-energy and hard-working.”


While Bosnians, Croatians and Kosovars come from different nations with different customs, all consider soccer an important part of their culture.


“Incidentally, soccer brings us all together,” Krajina said. “Soccer is always the one thing that brings all of us from the Balkans to the same place.”


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