By DANNY P. SMITH
There could be as many as 75 youth soccer teams coming to town this weekend for the third annual Starkville Frostbite Challenge Tournament.
Even though there will be an awards ceremony held at the end of the event hosted by the Starkville Soccer Association, one of the real winners is expected to be the city of Starkville and the Golden Triangle area.
There will be Division II teams coming in from as far north as DeSoto County and others from the Jackson area, Vicksburg and Meridian coming to Starkville.
The field is up from 48 in 2010 and 38 more since the inaugural tournament in 2009.
Starkville Academy soccer coach Robert Gardner, the Frostbite Challenge tournament director, said there's a chance for the area to receive a big economic boost.
"You've got to think about gas stations, restaurants and hotels," Gardner said. "I'm sure there will be people on campus buying things from the MSU bookstore. There's a lot of stuff out there this weekend to be a part of that is a big deal.
"I'm just looking forward to bringing so many people into our town. We're really excited about that. Hopefully, it will springboard us into hosting a huge tournament and get the best out of that. That's what we're looking for this weekend."
In a release provided by the Starkville Soccer Association, it indicated that local hotels were already sold out and some teams were staying in West Point and Columbus. Restaurants are encouraged to prepare for out of town guests as an expected total of 2,500 players, parents and other guests will be in town for the two-day tournament.
The action begins Saturday at the Starkville Sportsplex soccer complex with the first wave of matches kicking off at 8 a.m. The final slate of matches start at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
Gardner is excited about taking a break from coaching the Volunteers for a weekend in order to direct such an important tournament.
"I've gotten in touch with groups from all over the state and it gives me a different perspective of things rather than just being on the sideline coaching," Gardner said. "You can appreciate what goes into organizing any soccer season or soccer tournament. There's a lot of organizational stuff and I'm kind of excited to get to the weekend. It's been hard putting everything together, but I've enjoyed it."
Starkville Soccer Association President Stephen Bock indicated in the release that the continuing response to the launch of a new Division II tournament in the middle of the winter is nothing short of amazing, and thanked SSA volunteers and Starkville Parks and Recreation Director Matthew Rye and his staff for preparing the fields and facilities for the event.
According to SSA Sponsor Manager Andy Londo, there are several sponsors and partners directly responsible for the organization's financial ability to host the Frostbite Challenge and other tournaments. Those listed are the Greater Starkville Development Project, SSA Platinum Sponsor Callaway Orthodontics, Silver Sponsor Coca-Cola, major sponsors MFJ Enterprises, SemiSouth, Optimist Club, Holiday Inn Express, Southwire, Wal-Mart, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi, Oktibbeha County Hospital and Rotary Club. There are other league team sponsors.
Bock said some of the age groups represented are under-8 boys and girls, under-10 boys silver and gold divisions, under-10 girls silver and gold divisions, under-12 boys and girls divisions, and under-14 girls bracket.
The release explains that Challenge soccer is the division that serves as a transition between recreational soccer and elite, or select soccer. Select soccer is unavailable for under-8 players in Mississippi.
Challenge team action ends when the squads meet at the State Games in late June at Meridian.
The first Frostbite Challenge Tournament lived up to its name as frost and ice covered the fields for the first day of play.
The forecast this year is for warmer weather with afternoon temperatures between 55 and 60 degrees.
Even with prospects of the conditions to be more comfortable, parents are encouraged to dress the players with under armor and parents may want to bring extra blankets for early morning games.
Even though the response of volunteers has been strong, more are needed to help as field marshals and to welcome visitors this weekend and for future tournaments. Anyone interested can e-mail Gardner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional information on the tournament and a schedule is available at www.starkvillesoccer.com.
Bock has also announced that SSA spring registration is underway. More information on registration can also be found at www.starkvillesoccer.com.