Team travels to Tournament in style

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— As a part-time chauffer for Wild West Luxury Limos out of Denver, Kirk Lewis gets a rowdy bachelor party in his stretch Navigator limo every once in a while.

So driving 17 soccer players from Denver International Airport to Steamboat Springs, through road construction and grumbling stomachs, was just another day at the office.

The Croatian Eagles arrived Thursday as one of the 131 teams scheduled to participate in this weekend's Steamboat Mountain Soccer Tournament. Along with them came 11 parents and one sister from Milwaukee. The fan club, however, got stuck in a passenger van.

They will get the limo treatment back to DIA on Monday when a second one arrives.

At first glance, their mode of transportation may seem a bit excessive and perhaps a bit egotistical, but after researching every option, flying directly from Milwaukee to Denver and then renting limousines was the cheapest way to go.

So was staying in condos.

The first thing the parents did after check-in and registration was head to the grocery store to stock up on all the essentials for a weekend soccer tournament such as Gatorade, pasta, fruit and coffee.

The clerks at Safeway seemed a bit overwhelmed at first and the grocery bagger stopped short when the cart was heaping full of plastic sacks. He looked for a second.

"We'll carry them," Jill Koralewski said. "The limo is just outside."

It's not too often soccer parents get to carry groceries to a stretch Navigator.

Steamboat may seem like an obscure place for Milwaukee soccer players to come because the cost isn't cheap. After a series of fund-raisers that included everything from the token bake sale and carwash to a chicken dinner and a casino night, the Eagles raised around $7,000. The out-of-pocket cost was still $400 per person.

Mike Koch, their head coach, represented the Milwaukee club eight years ago in the same Steamboat tournament. He wanted to bring them back, the parents said. Koch and his team were out acclimating to the altitude, a tall task considering they have less than 24 hours to do so, so they were unavailable to speak.

The parents filled in perfectly.

They mentioned how the Croatian Eagles is the oldest soccer club in the United States. They recently beat the Serbian club team for the first time in 80 years. The players on these teams, however, aren't actually from those countries. The club names are an ethnic tradition in Milwaukee, they said.

Like the Eagles, one of eight teams in the boys Under 18 division, dozens of other squads came from out of state Thursday to register for the soccer tournament. Many more, however, arrived from within Colorado's borders, such as the Alamosa Hat Tricks.

While Lewis certainly deserves some credit for carting around a stretch Navigator full of soccer kids and parents, so, too, does soccer mom Joyce Wiley.

From the moment she and her daughters Rebecca and Sarah, along with players Mayra Dominquez, Angelica Ramirez and Chelsea McDonald, hopped into her suburban, it was concert time.

But these 11-year-olds don't listen to Britney Spears or 'N Sync. They groove to a much more sophisticated beat.

"We listen to Tina Turner, Martina McBride, Michael Jackson and Mexican soccer songs from the World Cup," they said together. "Oh yeah, we listened to Shania Twain, too."

Mom Wiley doesn't sing along, but she doesn't mind the girls belting out tunes either.

The Mexican candy and sour chips are another story.

"Try some," the girls giggle when they hand it out.

Make sure water is around.

Despite the fact they play in state, this is the first trip to Steamboat for this group of girls. Coach Donna McDonald said the coach of Alamosa's U12 Boys team pumped her up to enter, so she got a group of U12 girls together for a team.

Though the travel costs weren't as high for the Hat Tricks, they still held fun-draisers to help curb some of the lodging costs. Some of the girls ran laps for money, at around 50 cents a lap.

They should be in great shape come today's 8 a.m. opener.

More than 7,000 people are expected to be in Steamboat as part of the 18th annual Steamboat Mountain Soccer Tournament. Registration began Thursday around 5:30 p.m. at Mountain Resorts.

"It's exciting. The line stretched from here to there," race organizer Elmer Balvanz said, pointing from the side room out the door.

"This is the biggest check-in Mountain Resorts has had since they opened the new building. This beats anything during the winter."

Play begins at 8 a.m. today and runs through Sunday afternoon on fields at Christian Heritage, Emerald Park, the high school, Colorado Mountain College, Whistler Park and Ski Town. Eleven teams will represent Steamboat.

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