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Soccer crowd having 'great experience' in Columbus


Adam Minichino



Azad Hossain and his family aren't new to Columbus. 


Whether it is science, music or sports, Hossain has found many reasons to travel from Oxford to Columbus to spend the day in "The Friendly City." 


This weekend, though, Hossain, his wife, Tahmina Shirmeen; his son, Tamjeed Azad; and his daughter, Zara Hossain; are staying a little longer because Tamjeed is a member of the Under-14 Oxford Soccer Club participating in the Mississippi Soccer Association's Presidents Cup. The two-day event, which will conclude today, is the largest soccer tournament in the state of Mississippi. The Oxford SC is one of 120 teams that have descended on Columbus and the Golden Triangle to battle for Division II state titles. 


Hossain and his family have played matches at the Cook Soccer Complex before. He believes Saturday was his first time at the downtown Columbus Soccer Complex, a $5 million facility that opened in September 2012. Most of the matches are being played this weekend at the downtown complex, while others are being played at Cook and at Columbus High School. 


"It is very good," Hossain said. "The amazing thing that I never saw, and it is something we were talking about, is the signs. The big signs that say, 'Presidents Cup: This Way.' Everybody was talking about that. I have been to the Presidents Cup before and at other tournaments, and we didn't see that. That really helps." 


Hossain spent much of his son's 9:30 a.m. match against Columbus United taking pictures. He said he was impressed by the enthusiasm of everyone he encountered early on a sunny day in which temperatures climbed as high as 89 degrees, according to The Weather Channel.  


Hossain wasn't able to find a hotel in Columbus, so he is staying at a hotel in Starkville and will drive back to Columbus for his son's 8 a.m. game. He said the family typically travels to events -- like his son's Science Bowl team activities at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science or his son's piano competition last weekend in Hattiesburg -- but soccer is the primary activity that keeps them on the road. Hossain's son is in middle school and will be a freshman at Oxford High School in the fall. 


Being that his family is well experienced when it comes to traveling, Hossain said it is important to find other activities for his daughter so she can make the most of the trips, too. He said he hadn't had time to investigate what the family could do with Zara, but he said there are plenty of restaurants and businesses to go to to keep them busy. 


Beth Raffety, of Hernando, agreed with Hossain that organizers of the Presidents Cup could have more activities or games for boys and girls who aren't playing in the matches. Her son, Parks, 7, is a member of the U-9 Hernando Tigers Gold team that played against the Starkville Soccer Association Dawgs at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Raffety, whose other son, McClain, 10, spent time down by the creek adjacent to the field while his brother played, said she believes parents would be willing to pay for their other kids to be involved in activities to keep them out of trouble and so they could watch the games. 


Like Hossain, Raffety said she was impressed with everything on a warm day. Her family ate at Pepper's earlier in the day and is staying at the Fairfield Inn in Columbus. The family booked the hotel at the end of March or early in April. 


"I have found it very easy to get around," she said. "There haven't been any problems with traffic. We actually went to lunch with our whole team around 2 p.m. and were able to get tables all together. They were very accommodating to us, and our accommodations at the hotel have been great...We have had a great experience." 


Raffety said this is the first time the U-9 Hernando Tigers Gold team has competed in the Presidents Cup. She said the team played in a tournament in April in Little Rock, Arkansas, and another tournament in Collierville, Tennessee. After coming to the downtown Columbus Soccer Complex in the fall for recreational tournaments, Raffety said she enjoys the convenience of the accommodations, the restaurants, and the businesses near the field because it is important to be able to find time to rest between matches. She said the team didn't experience that when it traveled to Little Rock. 


"That is something I knew we could enjoy while we were here if we needed to cool off, or rejuvenate, or hydrate," Raffety said. "We knew we could look forward to that." 


Even though it was only one day, Raffety said she appreciated the cleanliness of the field and the friendliness of all of the people involved with the tournament. She suggested face painting booths or inflatable jumpers as possible solutions for cities to have on site to raise money for their local clubs or recreation departments. 


Brian Bennett, who is the boys soccer coach at Starkville High School, didn't have to worry about children playing in the creek. He was too busy coaching his son, Briggs, on the SSA Dawgs U-9 team, which beat Hernando 3-1. Bennett is a veteran coach who has traveled throughout the state and has attended numerous tournaments. He, too, was impressed by what he saw on the first day of the Presidents Cup. He wasn't surprised, though, because he has been to the new downtown Columbus Soccer Complex, so he felt the city was going to be able to handle a big and prestigious event. 


"It has been great," said Bennett, whose team lost to Meridian 2-1 in its first game. "Everybody has been out to go out to eat and have a good time in between games. They're going to do it tonight, too. 


"The kids love it, and the Presidents Cup is a fun tournament. The kids have really have fun all day." 


Bennett feels many of the schools in Columbus and in Lowndes County -- Columbus High, New Hope High, Caledonia High, Heritage Academy, and West Lowndes High -- can benefit from the exposure soccer will get this weekend in the city. Coming from a city like Starkville that has a more established tradition in club soccer, Bennett believes any benefits Columbus and its schools will see from the tournament will be a bonus. 


"It is a great help for Columbus," Bennett said. "The people get to come out and see the young kids. They're going to see this and want to be a part of it." 


That's good news for someone like Tom Velek, who coaches a U-13 and a U-16 team as director of coaching for Columbus United, the city's travel soccer club. Velek, who is the tournament director for the Presidents Cup, split his time watching matches, answering questions, and fixing problems much of the day. He said everything wasn't in place at the start of the day, but he said it all came together as the day unfolded and turned out to be a good first step. 


"We had a couple of bumps in the morning, maybe some things not being exactly where we wanted them to be at the first minute, but since then it has been smooth," Velek said. "It has been hot. We have had people complaining about the heat, but otherwise I think it has gone smoothly. We have had a good rotation of matches so there is a good flow of people coming in and out so no one complex is too packed at one time. All of the stuff I have heard is very positive. ... I am impressed. I think people are impressed, and the comments I am getting back are really good, too." 


Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.


Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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