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Soccer tourney appears to have healthy future

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It was a sea of colours all weekend long at the John Blumberg Soccer Complex in Headingley as a record number of teams took part in the 21st annual Children’s Hospital Foundation Soccer Tournament.


More than a dozen fields were in use as 192 youth teams from all parts of Winnipeg and throughout Manitoba had fun while supporting a worthy charity.


Winnipeg Youth Soccer Association president Alastair Gillespie said the tournament has raised more than $250,000 for the hospital since it started as a four-team event in 1991.


"It’s become the biggest and the best tournament out there," Gillespie said on Sunday afternoon, as gold-medal finals were being played. "This year has been beautiful, almost too hot at times. We’ve had years where this place has been a bog."


One team that had a great time in the tournament was the Park City West Wildcats, winners of the under-17 girls recreational division.


The team won all three of its round robin games, and edged Oakbank 2-1 in Sunday’s final.


"We looked at it as a practice for the rest of the regular season," said coach Brent Matsumoto. "Obviously we wanted to win as well, but it was a great way to get some exercise. It was also important for us to play in this tournament because it supports a great charity."


Like many of the teams in the tournament, the Wildcats used it as an opportunity to face some teams that they don’t meet in league play but may run into during city playoffs.


Wildcats captain Kaleigh Colles, a 17-year-old Transcona resident, was thankful for the trio of under-16 players who helped the team when some of the regulars were unable to play.


"We should also thank our goalie (Carmen Baeta) for keeping us in it," Colles said. "It was a tiring tournament… a long drive to get here."


Due to jobs and other commitments, the Wildcats struggled to field a full team. In one game they had only 10 players on the field, and the most they ever had was two substitutes.


The only saving grace was the fact that round robin games were 60 minutes instead of the usual 90, and the final was only 80 minutes.


WYSA executive director Trish Blanchard said it was a challenge to expand from last year’s 175 teams — and added that some teams were turned away because the tournament was full — but suggested the event could grow again next year.


"The biggest problem is having enough refs and enough fields," she said. "The success of the tournament is because of the commitment of the soccer community as a whole. People just love coming out here from all over the province."


And when does planning begin for next year’s event?
"Tomorrow," Blanchard replied.

avi.saper@canstarnews.com

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