Tourney opens with ceremony
HUNTINGTON -- Armed with vuvuzelas -- those horns you've been hearing during World Cup play -- and team spirit, soccer families from Maine to Virginia filled up Marshall's Joan C. Edwards Stadium for the opening ceremony of the 2010 US Youth Soccer Region I Championships on Thursday.
A crowd comparable to last year's 20,000 were on-hand to witness the world's largest American flag -- all 7,500-sq.-ft. of it -- fall from the sky with professional skydivers from Team Fastrax, a tug-of-war between coaches and a mascot soccer match including Marshall's Marco, the dominant Little Caesar and beloved local favorite, Beeper, from WSAZ's "Mr. Cartoon Show." The ceremony closed with an Olympic-style parade by the 5,000 youth athletes in an array of colorful jerseys representing their teams.
"What a great day to welcome these visitors to West Virginia and Marshall University," said Marshall president Dr. Stephen J. Kopp, addressing the crowd. "I hope you create memories that will last a lifetime while you're here."
Soccer mom Jane Junkins traveled from Delaware with her 16-year-old son, Mickey, who is competing in the tournament with the U-16 Boys Team Kirkwood Ajax. Though it is the second year the National Championship Series has been hosted in West Virginia, it is Junkins' first trip to town for the largest youth sporting event in the state of West Virginia.
"Everything has been great. There's been a lot of pomp and circumstance, but I think it makes it that much more exciting for the kids," she said. "They've been fighting for years to get here and I want them to experienced everything there is to see and do while we're here."
Moppy Lavery, who co-chaired the opening ceremony event with Diane Shattls, said that everything went as planned and the weather was just what she ordered.
"We ended early, which was great. Everybody was thrilled about that. The concessions were great, the food was great, it was a beautiful day and the weather was absolutely fantastic," she said. "The volunteers showed a lot of class and the crowd seemed really happy about everything.
"We've spent two years of our lives working on this and so many people are impacted -- the hotels, the restaurants, the grocery stores," she continued. "It's been a lot of fun and we're happy to do it."
Volunteer Norma Bromley of Huntington, who worked with the tournament last year, said she is glad to do her part to see that the event is a success.
"I just like to volunteer with youth organizations and it takes lots and lots of volunteers to make this kind of thing happen," she said. "Seeing the enjoyment of the kids and having all these people in from different states is exciting."
Volunteer coordinator Kheng McGuire said nearly a hundred volunteers will be utilized for help on the field and hundreds more will serve in every capacity from volunteer medical help to parking attendants between the opening ceremony and the final day on Tuesday.
"Without volunteers, this wouldn't happen," she said. "You can't have 250 teams without the volunteer help."
With the games officially opened by Senator Bob Plymale, tournament play can now get underway for age-group champions from 15 state associations. Games are scheduled July 2-6 at the Barboursville Soccer Complex and the Scott Orthopedics Soccer Complex at the Huntington YMCA Kennedy Center.
More than $12.1 million was generated for the city from last year's tournament, and visitors to the area have booked approximately 11,000 hotel room nights for this year's festivities.
"They only play one game a day so there's plenty of time to socialize and get out and about," said Junkins, who added this is the furthest south she's traveled from her home state of Delaware for soccer. "So far, everything's been just wonderful."