April 1, 2009
Sometimes teams just want to play.
Tom Velek and others involved in soccer in Columbus decided last year to do something about it.
Their decision has grown into a full-fledged event this year.
Velek and Columbus United Soccer will welcome more than 20 soccer teams and more than 200 players to town Friday and Saturday for the second annual Columbus Friends and Family Days at the Cook Fields.
Boys and girls Under-10 through U-14 teams will come together for two days of matches. The format will be different from other "tournaments," Velek said, because it isn''t focused on producing a winner.
"What we saw was a great need for opportunities for teams to come together and compete outside of tournaments," Velek said. "As we started talking to coaches in the Northern part of Mississippi, so many wanted to do it, so we picked a day in the spring where we could all bring teams together not for a tournament but for a fun day and get everybody two to three matches so the kids could have a lot of experience and make it an event."
The Friends and Family Days also will provide games, raffles, and food for all of the participants.
Velek said teams from Caaledonia, Starkville, Amory, Clarksdale, Greenville, Winona, Saltillo, and Oxford are just some of the ones that will be in Columbus this weekend.
"Last year compared to what we''re doing this year is like an infant to a teenager," Velek said. "I think last year we had three teams in each age group and nine or 10 teams total. This year we have U-10 boys and girls, U-12 boys and girls, and U-14 girls. In all, we have 23 teams."
Velek said his experience leads him to believe Columbus Friends and Family Days is unique in that it doesn''t follow the format of traditional tournaments, where a No. 1 seed is matched up against a No. 8 seed. He said his goal is to schedule competitive matches so teams and players get the most out of the experience.
Velek said another positive about the event is that it helps Columbus build goodwill, especially when it puts on a well-run event. He said other communities will return the favor and invite Columbus teams to their tournaments and events, which will help Columbus spread its name throughout the state.
"I think it is important for athletes in Columbus to have an active and dynamic soccer club to be a part of that will go the distance to give them a quality experience," Velek said. "Doing this thing builds up name recognition."
Velek said the success of last year''s event translated into high demand for this year''s event. Unfortunately, he said he had to turn teams away because he just couldn''t fit anyone else into the schedule.
Velek, the director of competitive soccer for Columbus United, hopes the event will give community leaders a chance to see how youth sports can positively impact the community.
Columbus is in the process of selecting a site for a sportsplex that is expected to be home to new athletic fields for a variety of sports.
Velek is working with the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority to organize the event. He hopes community leaders will come out to the event so they can have a real example to use in their discussion about the sportsplex and see how a facility can impact the city.
Action is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Friday with the Columbus United U-12 boys against Caledonia and the Columbus United U-12 girls against Starkville. Matches begin at 8.45 Saturday morning and continue until 6 p.m.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.