John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs Sure, it brings thousands armed with umbrellas, sunscreen and lawn chairs to the soccer fields of Steamboat Springs.
But the success of the Steamboat Mountain Soccer Tournament is about a lot more than just bringing tourists to the area every July.
It's about the love of soccer, the growth of the game in Steamboat and making sure that young players in our mountain valley have a chance to experience the game's highest levels.
I was a senior in high school when this tournament started 25 years ago. I was focused on girls, cars and having a good time with my friends.
But the folks who started the Steamboat Mountain Soccer Tournament were already looking to the future.
Kris Rowse, this year's tournament director, said more than 5,000 players, family members and coaches came to Steamboat Springs this weekend. They came to play soccer but ended up filling hotel rooms, eating in restaurants and enjoying many of the other things our town has to offer.
I'm not sure that was the goal of the people who started the tournament, but nobody in Steamboat Springs is complaining. I've been told that the original purpose of the tournament was to bring a higher level of soccer to our town.
When the tournament started, teams on the Western Slope struggled to keep pace with teams in metro areas like Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs. So the original tournament organizers wanted to start an event that would allow local teams in to face top teams on their own home fields.
But a lot has changed in the 25 years since the tournament was started.
Today, young players get an early start in the well-organized Steamboat Springs Youth Soccer Association, and there are a dozen traveling teams that go out of their way to find top tournaments every summer.
The level of soccer is displayed every fall and spring with the success of the Steamboat Springs High School soccer programs. These teams are regulars in the state tournament and have made several state title runs in the past. Despite the fact Steamboat is one of the smallest 4A schools in the state, and that these teams often face much larger schools in the later rounds of the tournament, the Steamboat programs always are competitive.
The credit for the success of local team goes to coaches like Rob Bohlmann, who have pushed soccer to a new level during the past two decades. But it's hard to overlook the success of the Steamboat Mountain Soccer Tournament and it's role in the rise of soccer in Steamboat Springs.
The tournament has introduced young players to an elite level of play and opened their eyes to what is possible.
The money it raises has helped support many of our town's top traveling teams and helped the players in our community rise to a new level.