This year, the Georgia Soccer State Cup’s Final Four, including 42 games for seven age groups of boys and girls, will be held in Statesboro May 30 and 31, using Georgia Southern University’s soccer fields and fields at The Clubhouse.
This marks a departure from the metro Atlanta area for the Georgia Soccer youth program’s semifinal and final games. Statesboro’s mayor and the university’s president took part in an announcement Thursday at the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau, or SCVB, where Georgia Soccer’s choice was presented as a coup for Statesboro.
“Georgia Soccer, for those of you who don’t know, is a 90,000-member organization,” said Sharron Safriet, its director of marketing and events. “We have soccer players all over the state. Probably about 85 percent of them are in metro Atlanta. So that’s the first clue of what we’re dealing with. Everybody’s up there, and we’re down here.”
Georgia Soccer is a nonprofit corporation and a state governing body for the U.S. Soccer Federation. The 90,000 figure includes referees, administrators and coaches, as well as youth and adults in more than 1,000 teams. More than 2,200 people are expected to attend the two days of games here, according to Safriet.
“You have been awarded the Final Four, which is the semifinals and the finals, so the games will be very, very competitive,” Safriet said. “We hope that local supporters from the area — Hinesville, Savannah, Statesboro — will come to watch because you will see the best in youth soccer in the state.”
State champions in the under-13 through under-19 age brackets for both boys and girls will be decided in Statesboro. Winners advance through U.S. Youth Soccer regional leagues to compete in one of four regional championships.
The city of Statesboro, Georgia Southern, the SCVB, the Statesboro-Bulloch Parks and Recreation Department and The Clubhouse are listed as key sponsors. They worked together on the bid to host the State Cup’s final rounds.
“It is really fun … when groups of people come together, what can be accomplished when no single entity needs to take credit for it, and I think today is one of those moments,” Darin Van Tassell, SCVB’s president, said in remarks to reporters.
Van Tassell is also a GSU associate professor and owner of The Clubhouse, a business that maintains soccer fields used for practice by Storm Soccer Academy, based in Savannah, whose teams compete in the State Cup. His son, Payne, 15, plays on a Storm Soccer Academy team.
Not in Atlanta?
Statesboro Mayor Jan Moore said she had received text messages from friends who are soccer parents around the state expressing surprise that Statesboro was chosen to host the tournament.
“They may wonder what happened in Atlanta, but we don’t wonder here,” Moore said.
She told Safriet that Statesboro promises to “provide you the very best experience that you’ve ever had with a tournament.”
Safriet said she had never been to Statesboro when SCVB Executive Director Heidi Jeffers called her and then sent in a “fabulous” proposal. So Safriet drove to Statesboro and toured the soccer facilities.
“You have first-class facilities at the university, at Mill Creek, at The Clubhouse,” she said. “I haven’t seen anything finer anywhere in the state.”
With the GSU intramural fields and The Clubhouse fields also available for semifinals, Georgia Soccer plans to use Georgia Southern’s soccer complex, which hosted the collegiate Sun Belt Conference Men’s Championship in November, for a number of games in the championship round.
As part of its contribution, the university will house players and coaches in the Freedom’s Landing residence hall.
“It’s an opportunity not only for us to interact with the city but to show off the campus,” said GSU President Dr. Brooks Keel. “I mean, these are young people that are going to be looking for colleges at some point it time.”
The university also offered to stream the championship games live on the Internet.
So Statesboro will host the conclusion of the State Cup, but the opening round-robin games will be held in Columbus, which Safriet said has hosted that portion for about 10 years. Last year’s Final Four games were held in Fayetteville, about 25 miles from downtown Atlanta.
Incidentally, the Statesboro-Bulloch Parks and Recreation Department is not involved in Georgia Soccer play, instead fielding teams for some age groups up to 12 years old in Georgia Parks and Recreation Association soccer. Chris Atkinson, the department’s youth athletics supervisor for the soccer program, independently works with some U.S. Club Soccer travel teams up to age 16.
Although the Parks and Recreation Department’s soccer fields at Mill Creek Regional Park were shown as part of the proposal, they will not be used because the Final Four event does not require that many fields, Van Tassell said.
“But I think that tour that we took, especially at Mill Creek, sort of gives us some options in thinking about some larger events, too, that we’re going to put some bids in for,” he said.
That could include bidding for the round-robin portion of the cup, which draws 240 teams for three days over Memorial Day weekend, Safriet said.
Although the proposal was referred to as a “bid,” the host organizations do not pay Georgia Soccer.
“We do pay certain expenses while we’re down here, and then the rest is just really funded by the economic impact, which should be a few hundred thousand dollars,” Safriet said in an interview.
The weekend tournament promises to generate business for Statesboro motels and restaurants while the university is beginning its relatively small summer session. The Visitors Bureau met with its motel management group just after Thursday’s announcement.
“The hotels are really excited about having a tournament like this in Statesboro,” Jeffers said. “It’s during a great time of year. We can really partner together and make it a great event.”
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.