Mother Nature’s smile glowed on the Shawnee Sports Complex on Friday morning. Blue skies with a few wisps of clouds. Temperatures that were warm but not too warm.
After the rainy days prior to Friday, it was nice for those working at Shawnee and those overseeing the U.S. Youth Soccer 2019 Eastern Presidents Cup — happening Friday through Tuesday at the complex — to have one less variable to deal with as the tournament opened.
But if the clouds do arrive and drop some rain, the complex will be ready for it. With a tournament this size, more than 100 teams from 13 states competing at both Shawnee and the Barboursville Soccer Complex, there was no variable that could be left unaccounted for.
“This is not a tournament you can run on the fly,” said Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango, who was instrumental in the construction of the complex. “You have to be on your ‘A’ game.”
Everyone involved in this week’s tournament understands that and has been working for months to make sure the Eastern Presidents Cup is as good of an experience as possible. The tournament also serves another purpose — to help prepare everyone for an even bigger tournament, the Eastern Regional Championships coming to Barboursville and Shawnee at the end of the month.
Building to the Presidents Cup and regional championship has been a gradual process, Shawnee facilities manager Katie Arthur said. Opened in 2018, Shawnee is a young site for youth sports. Jumping straight into a massive tournament like the regional championships, where more than 300 teams are scheduled to visit the Kanawha Valley, would have been too much for everyone to handle.
“The idea from the beginning was to start with smaller tournaments and work our way up,” she said. “We knew with a 127-acre complex, we could handle a 200-team tournament in any sport, but we wanted to start smaller because you could only really work out any issues by going through the process.”
It’s not just about getting teams in and out of the complex and on and off the fields in a timely manner. Safety is the primary concern, Shawnee operations manager Samantha Carney said, so the tournament organizers go through everything from traffic to emergency services to parking to inclement weather protocols. They keep an eye on how long concession stand lines grow and work with food vendors to make sure they have the right items well stocked to serve.
“It’s our team that comes together,” Carney said. “We kind of analyze where we’re at and then we’ve already started some planning for the regionals, but as we go through this tournament we’re tweaking as we go. We’ll say, ‘Yes, this’ll work perfect.’ And I’ll be honest, we lose a lot of sleep because we’re constantly thinking. We can get up at 3 in the morning and get on our iPhone notes and jot things down.”
The ideas need to keep flowing because Shawnee has to get ready for an even larger tournament coming together in just a couple of weeks. Carney said that with everything they’re looking at with the Presidents Cup — be it traffic or food or portable restrooms — the organizers are tripling that number to prepare of the Eastern Regional.
Arthur said Barboursville’s experience in these events has been essential to the success Shawnee has enjoyed so quickly. They’re the perfect tag-team partner for hosting the tournaments over the next few weeks.
“They have the experience — been there, done that, got the T-shirt,” she said. “They have been great, along with the West Virginia Soccer Association, when it comes to setting up the signs or where you need VIP parking or where to put the medical tent. Where we’ve run tournaments separate from them, we know Shawnee inside and out.”
Salango said Barboursville’s influence was shown before the first tournament game at Shawnee even began. The Cabell County facility is part of the reason U.S. Youth Soccer has placed its tournaments here.
“The only reason U.S. Youth Soccer is talking to us now is by the way Barboursville has run its tournaments in the past,” he said. “They don’t look at it as Barboursville, they look at it as West Virginia. Because Barboursville has done so well, that keeps us in the running for a lot of things.”
Every effort made in this weekend’s tournament is with an eye toward the future, not just the immediate future with the regional championship, but further ahead with what Shawnee can host down the line.
“Everything that we’re doing, we’re thinking about safety and making sure everyone is pleased with Shawnee,” Carney said. “We have a great opportunity with this $18 million complex. We’ve really just begun with our tournaments, so we’re just looking forward to what we can bring in.”