Steamboat Springs Nearly every area of grass in Steamboat Springs large enough to hold a soccer field will do so this weekend when more than 140 teams begin play in the Steamboat Mountain Soccer Tournament.
Fields will be set up at Ski Town, the Steamboat Springs High School and middle school, Christian Heritage School, Whistler Park and Emerald Park for the three-day tournament that has developed a reputation as one of Colorado's best.
Niki Titus, who, along with Jim Titus and Elmer Balvanz, serves as a tournament director, said there are three reasons why Steamboat's tournament attracts so many teams from the Front Range and out of state.
The first is the competitive balance. Colorado's elite teams aren't eligible, so the majority of the state's teams, which play a high level of soccer, enjoy entering the tournament because they don't have to face the premier Front Range clubs.
The second is the draw of Steamboat itself, which is a popular summer destination for families involved in youth sports such as soccer.
The third is the emphasis the tournament's directors place on sportsmanship.
"Sportsmanship is absolutely part of the experience," Titus said. "Steamboat has a great reputation, and we want it to be a good experience and a quality tournament."
Because of those reasons, the Steamboat Mountain Tournament is one of the earliest to fill anywhere in Colorado, which is great news for the Steamboat Springs Youth Soccer Association. This weekend's tournament, which begins this morning, is the primary fund-raiser for the SSYSA. The SSYSA is responsible for the development of soccer players in Steamboat through such things as local leagues and traveling squads.
This is the 20th year of the Steamboat Mountain Soccer Tournament, but it's the final year for Balvanz. When he and his family moved to Steamboat nearly six years ago, he and his wife, Debra, got involved in helping with the tournament.
"We had two kids playing soccer and felt it was the right thing to do," Balvanz said. "There is so much behind-the-scenes stuff that makes a tournament work, and I have an incredible staff of volunteers."
Balvanz added that the community does its share in helping run a successful tournament, as well. The donations that businesses provide, whether they are food gift certificates or portable toilets, enable the SSYSA to give more money back to the youths.
"It's all about the kids," Balvanz said.
Between the boys and girls teams, Steamboat has 16 teams entered in this weekend's tournament with players ranging in age from younger than 10 to 18.
Pool play will take place today and Saturday; Sunday is reserved for the finals and consolation matches. In all, more than 200 games are scheduled to take place this weekend.