May 26, 2014 10:48:54 PM
On Friday, Tom Velek couldn't help look back 10 years ago on the eve of the most important weekend in youth sports history in the city of Columbus.
Velek, the director of coaching for Columbus United Soccer, the city's travel soccer club, told a story going back about a conversation he had with other Columbus residents regarding the chances the city might create a soccer complex so it could play host to Mississippi Soccer Association events and better serve the soccer players in the area.
Velek was told not to expect to see a complex in his lifetime.
To hear Velek tell that story and to see the Benetton rainbow that descended on Columbus last weekend for the annual Presidents Cup tournament almost made you feel like you were in a different community. Instead, the two days that involved more than 100 teams and 200 matches for the state's biggest youth soccer tournament only proved that Columbus is capable coming together to put on a show that rivals the best cities in the state of Mississippi.
Regardless of how you order your priorities, Columbus passed every test. Parking? The days of congested parking lots and frustrated parents who couldn't find spaces were replaced with additional spaces and plenty of open spots. Bathrooms and concession stands? A second concession stand replete with bathrooms that were kept clean all weekend helped keep hot players and parents fed and hydrated.
The weekend wasn't without its hiccups. Mother Nature turned up the heat to the high 80s and low 90s on Saturday and Sunday to ensure many of the players and parents had a sun tan to take home to commemorate Columbus' first foray into a major tournament host.
There also were the occasional parents who had to be educated about the separation boxes on all of the fields that are designed to keep fans of each team on their side to discourage them from instigating any mischief on the sidelines.
Just in case, their were field marshals on hand at all of the fields to address any issues or any parents who unwittingly -- or just to test the field marshal -- sounded off with an artificial noise maker.
But those instances in no way took away from the success of the tournament. "Brilliant" was one of the complimentary words MSA Director of Coaching Dr. Terry Eguaoje used to describe his impressions of the job Columbus did at the Presidents Cup. MSA President Doug Kitchens echoed Eguaoje's sentiments and said the city had every right to boast that it had scored a hat trick. For those of you who aren't soccer fans, that means three goals scored in a game.
Columbus has shown it is more than capable of playing host to successful Dizzy Dean baseball and Amateur Softball Association tournaments. The work Roger Short and the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority have done in those two sports is respected throughout the state, so people know the quality of tournaments they will get when the come to Columbus.
For soccer, though, Columbus still had to prove itself. That's why this weekend was so important. Prior to the tournament, the city expected to receive a possible $2 million economic benefit from the Presidents Cup. Judging from all of the satisfied comments from coaches and parents, it's safe to say many of the visitors stayed in hotels and ate in restaurants in Columbus and went home looking forward to their next visits to the city. That's a great sign.
It's even more encouraging to see how well the city, the county, the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau, and everyone else came together to make everyone proud. Short and Velek deserve credit for making sure all of the details were handled. CVB Executive Director Nancy Carpenter also gets praise for recognizing the need to make a great first impression and allocating the financial support to make sure the city realized its goal.
There are things to fix. The fields need to be maintained. There is a difference between baseball turf and soccer turf. There also is a difference in how each should be maintained. While the fields held up, the quality of the turf needs to improve, as does its upkeep. There also were plenty of patches of dirt and weeds that looked like they were forgotten. It might seem like a small detail, but every "little" thing makes a $5 million investment appear to be a little less than that.
Safety also needs to be addressed. One parent suggested nets be placed behind the goals to help prevent balls from going behind the goals and into the road in between the fields. There were at least three instances in which players ran into the roads to retrieve balls that could have been dangerous if cars had been coming. Nets behind the goals could help contain the action and prevent any players from venturing into the road.
Like any first time, though, those and other items will be examined and addressed for future tournaments. Columbus will have to wait until January to find out if it lands more tournaments for 2016. As it stands today, the city will play host to the 2015 Coaches Cup, a smaller tournament than the Presidents Cup, but another chances to bolster its resume and to make a second impressions that solidifies the first. The planning should begin today.
While everyone involved deserves congratulations and a pat on the back for a job well done, it is no time to rest on those laurels. Cities like Tupelo, Meridian, Jackson, and others are going to hear how well Columbus did and know they have new competition when the next round of bidding for tournaments begins. Here's hoping Columbus learns its lessons from this past weekend and only gets better for the next tournament. After all, it would be a shame not to make the most of seeing a dream realized in our lifetime.
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @ctsportseditor. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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