DUNBAR, W.Va. - Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango says the 2019 U.S. Youth Soccer Eastern Regional Championships, set to begin Friday at the Shawnee Sports Complex in Dunbar, Kanawha County, and the Barboursville Sports Complex in Cabell County, may be the largest sports event in West Virginia history.
"We are talking about 260 teams from 14 states for seven days ... I am not aware of any other sporting event in the state that has had these kinds of numbers," Salango said.
The U.S. Youth Soccer National Championship Series is considered the country's most prestigious national youth soccer tournament.
"I don't know another sporting event that comes to West Virginia that can bring that kind of money, last that long and bring an economic impact that much more important," Len Rogers, president of the West Virginia Soccer Association, said in a recent interview with The Herald-Dispatch. "You just can't get that with a football game or one-day event. This is huge for our state."
Hosting some of the country's most prestigious national youth soccer tournaments is creating huge economic impacts, not only for the greater Huntington and Charleston areas, but in many other areas of the state as well.
"We estimate as many as 18,000 people or more will be coming for this tournament, with an economic impact of $16 (million) to $20 million," Salango said. "Hotels are filling up from Ashland, Kentucky, to Beckley, West Virginia, and beyond. I have been told some teams are booking hotel rooms as far away as Parkersburg, West Virginia."
The Barboursville and Shawnee complexes will host the 2019 U.S. Youth Soccer Eastern Regional Championships, which will run to July 4. This tournament will be more than double the size of the Presidents Cup tournament that took place at both complexes last week.
"We have been preparing for this one since it was announced over a year ago," Salango said. "We are excited to again show everyone from out of the area what West Virginia has to offer."
Last week's U.S. Youth Soccer Eastern Presidents Cup tournament at the Barboursville Soccer Complex and the Shawnee Sports Complex brought in over 112 teams from 13 states, with an estimated $8 million to $14 million economic impact, according to officials.
"We were very pleased with the success of the Presidents Cup tournament and received nothing but positive feedback about both sports complexes," Salango said.
Barboursville Mayor Chris Tatum echoed Salango's comments on the success of the Presidents Cup tournament.
"It speaks volumes that these people continue to come here in large numbers for these youth soccer tournaments," Tatum said. "Everything went very smoothly, and we had heard nothing but good things about our region and our state. This week's tournament is another chance to showcase our region."
The U.S. Youth Soccer Eastern Regional Championships will feature top boys and girls teams in the 12U through 19U age groups.
The first three days will feature round-robin games at both complexes starting Friday, June 28, through Sunday, June 30. A rest day is set for Monday, July 1, and then quarterfinals and semifinal matches will be played July 2-3 at the Shawnee Sports Complex. The U.S. Youth Soccer Eastern Regional Champions will be crowned following final games on Wednesday and Thursday, July 3 and 4, also at the Shawnee Sports Complex.
Salango said the Shawnee Sports Complex will use six turf fields, five full-size grass fields and three smaller grass fields for the younger age groups in this tournament.
"We will have a total of 14 fields being used," Salango said. "We will be sufficiently staffed, but we are always looking for volunteers that want to help out."
Those wishing to volunteer can get information online at shawneesports.com, Salango said.
Tatum said the Barboursville Sports Complex is also sufficiently staffed for this tournament.
"We are excited and ready to go," he said. "The weather forecast looks positive, so we are cautiously optimistic that the weather shouldn't affect play."
In 2020, Barboursville Soccer Complex and Shawnee Park will again team up for the two tournaments. So, as the tournament looks to grow for the future, the Barboursville Soccer Complex is looking at adding new turf fields as well as an indoor multiuse facility to its venue, according to Tatum.
"Youth sports tourism is a multibillion-dollar industry, and now is the time for us to quit talking about expansion and to take action," Tatum said.
For the latest in the Eastern Regional Championships, visit http://championships.usyouthsoccer.org/East.
Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.