There are a lot of people around the Kanawha Valley who want to see the U.S. Youth Soccer Eastern Regional Championships succeed, as Shawnee Sports Complex facilities director Katie Arthur happily found out in the tournament’s opening hours Friday.
As the event, already teeming with volunteers, began, soccer parents were approaching her to see if there was anything they could do.
“I have been pleasantly surprised,” she said. “I’ve been bombarded by people coming to watch their kids. They might not have already signed up, but they say, ‘Hey, I can stay an extra three hours and help.’
“We’re really thankful.”
From local youth sports teams to people just wanting to pitch in, the Eastern Regional Championship are getting plenty of help from Kanawha Valley residents who are making it their mission to show some Mountain State hospitality to youth soccer teams and their families who have arrived from elsewhere.
After hosting the Eastern Presidents Cup earlier this month, Shawnee officials knew the strong volunteer base they had for that tournament needed to become even stronger for a tournament that would bring 260 youth teams to Shawnee and the Barboursville Soccer Complex. After reaching out to local organizations and setting up a signup website, the tournament had plenty of folks offering their assistance.
Arthur believes those soccer parents approaching her are, in part, showing their joy and appreciation that they didn’t have to drive hours to watch their kids play, as they often do with tournaments of that magnitude. Otherwise, they just want to see local soccer and local soccer venues shine.
“They’re all bought in,” she said. “So whatever they have to do to make it a good experience for everyone, they’re willing to help.
“Soccer to us is family,” Arthur said of her and her husband, FC Alliance South director Adam Arthur.
Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango — one of the staunchest advocates for and someone crucial in the development of the Shawnee Sports Complex — said there might be at least a small chip on the shoulders of tournament volunteers, which spurs them to offer their help.
If there is any chance for Mountain State residents to zap stereotypes or correct misconceptions, they appreciate the opportunity to do so. And with people coming from as far as Maine to take in the tournament, it allows volunteers to broadcast how hospitable the Kanawha Valley can be.
Solango said Friday that he’s heard nothing but positive reviews from visitors.
“Everyone is so excited about the event and really wanting to show the Eastern Region what West Virginia is all about,” he said. “We’ve got people directing traffic, grilling hamburgers, everything.”
Scott Abbott is the president of the Elk River Soccer Club and vice president of the Kanawha Valley Soccer League and, while he doesn’t have a team in this week’s tournament, he was more than happy to pull on a red T-shirt and join the throngs of volunteers.
“You still want this event to go well,” he said. “It reflects on the whole community. If it’s a bad experience of people who come, it reflects badly on West Virginia.”
Abbott said he was talking to one out-of-town official who, after he checked into his hotel and went to a local restaurant, was approached by a local who could tell he wasn’t from the area. The local introduced himself and the two got to talking.
“That guy was like, ‘Nobody does that back home,’” Abbott said. “That’s kind of how West Virginians sort of are.”