soccer ball

HUNTINGTON — There's an old saying that you get what you put in.

West Virginia's economy is seeing that in the last month, thanks to the efforts of many groups to bring a pair of prestigious youth soccer tournaments to the state.

The West Virginia Soccer Association has teamed with state and county government officials, along with a wealth of workers and volunteers at the Barboursville Soccer Complex and Shawnee Park, to make these tournaments — the US Youth Soccer Eastern Presidents Cup and the US Youth Soccer Eastern Regional Championships — possible within the state.

And what does that state of West Virginia get as a reward for the collective hard work of these individuals? How about an estimated $30 million to the state's economy over a three-week span.

"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," said Len Rogers, president of West Virginia Soccer Association.

"You just can't get that with a football game or one-day event. This is huge for our state."

Last Tuesday, that entire delegation of individuals celebrated as the US Youth Soccer Eastern Presidents Cup wrapped up at Shawnee Park in Dunbar — an event that ended with a West Virginia-based Empire FC team winning the association's first-ever Presidents Cup title with a 1-0 win in U-12 girls action.

That was not the only victory of the tournament, however.

The event brought $8 million to the state of West Virginia through tourism and business as teams traveled from many different states to the greater Huntington and Charleston areas.

Officials may be celebrating last week's success, but they will get no rest as the Eastern Region Championships nearly triple the size of the Presidents Cup when they come calling later this week.

"This tournament that we wrapped up (Tuesday) was about an $8 million economic impact," Rogers said. "The next one will be over $20 million and there will be more than 30,000 people here in our communities between Shawnee and Barboursville and they are staying all over with hotels and such, so the entire state gets in on it."

Another boon for the state came from US Youth Soccer, who switched the format for both tournaments in 2018. The Presidents Cup went from three days to five days while the Eastern Region Championships went from five days to seven days.

The key in next week's tournament is a day of rest on July 1 (Monday) that allows teams to get prepared for championship round play. Rogers said it will be a day in which those from outside the state will get the opportunity to take in the sights and tastes of West Virginia, which creates a big opportunity for area businesses.

"That extension is huge because the last time we hosted the region championships, the impact was $16 million," Rogers said. "Those extra days jumps this to more than $20 million and it could go as high as $24 million. I'm curious to see what it actually goes to once calculations are in."

It doesn't happen without a collective effort from all involved within the state, which is what has made West Virginia a youth soccer destination for more than a decade now.

The Eastern Presidents Cup was Shawnee Park's first involvement with US Youth Soccer and the collaboration between that facility and Barboursville Soccer Complex was a major success, according to Sam Carney, operations director at Shawnee Park.

Carney added that the ability of both venues to work together brings tremendous exposure to many parts of the state.

"It doesn't happen overnight," Carney said. "This is months of planning between everyone and, as far as we're concerned, you've got an opportunity when teams are traveling in. You've got (Interstates) 64, 77, 79 that they are coming through, so it's an opportunity for West Virginia to showcase. We want any destination to partner with us and get their information to us so we can promote them, so if teams are traveling in or out, we can create a great experience for them."

From a game-play standpoint, the addition of Shawnee Park has been a major coup. The facility features six state-of-the-art artificial turf fields, which allows play through any conditions, thus enhancing the tournament experience.

As the tournament looks to grow for the future, Barboursville Soccer Complex is also looking at adding six turf fields to its venue, which would further brighten an already bright future for the prospective tournaments.

And make no mistake. The future is bright for youth soccer events in West Virginia.

In 2020, Barboursville Soccer Complex and Shawnee Park will again team up for the two tournaments.

In April 2018, the 2020 US Youth Soccer Eastern Presidents Cup was announced at the same time as the 2019 tourney slots, and last month, it was announced that the two complexes would link up again to host the 2020 US Youth Soccer Eastern Region Championships, which pleases officials in both venues.

"We love rolling out the red carpet for our visitors and look forward to continuing our long-standing relationship with US Youth Soccer and the West Virginia Soccer Association," Barboursville mayor Chris Tatum said in the announcement's release.

"The Kanawha County Commission is excited to partner with Barboursville, US Youth Soccer, and WVSA in bringing this event back to West Virginia," Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango said.

Salango's key word in that statement was partner.

No matter whether it is the work of the WVSA, state officials, county commissions or workers and volunteers at the various complexes, all involved are in it for the same reason: to bring exposure and revenue to West Virginia.

Over the course of the two years, many different champions will be crowned in various divisions, ranging from U-12 to U-19 in both boys and girls competition.

But there is one consistent champion at the end of the day: Team West Virginia.

During a time each year when West Virginia is celebrating its state's birthday, the opportunities appear to be one heck of a birthday present.

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