Late in 2014, a local committee presented Statesboro to a group from the Georgia State Cup — youth soccer's statewide tournament — with an ambitious goal in mind.
The tournament's prestigious final rounds have long been a mainstay of the metro-Atlanta area, but officials were impressed with what Statesboro had to offer and the decision was made in December to send the semifinal and final rounds a bit farther south than usual.
After two spirited days of competition and 14 teams claiming state titles over seven age divisions, Statesboro's first crack at the Georgia State Cup seems to have been well received by the state's elite soccer squads.
“We were very excited (about Statesboro hosting) heading into the weekend,” tournament director Sharron Safriet said. “I think it's safe to say that everything exceeded our expectations. Good times were had by players, coaches and fans, and that was our main goal with any location.”
Aside from six fields at Georgia Southern — including the Eagles' main soccer stadium — easily handling the load of hosting 38 games over a two-day span, all of the intangibles were noted as highlights.
Before play even began on Saturday, a Friday night welcoming party easily brought more than 1,000 to The Clubhouse to enjoy some non-soccer activities and to celebrate the accomplishment of all teams having made it to the state's biggest stage. Afterwards, players retreated to what was a unique experience for many.
Freedom's Landing — which serves as on-campus student housing from August through May — was put into service as a sleeping and staging area for players, coaches and referees. While most players on these elite clubs are accustomed to hotel rooms and playing far from home, the dorm-style setup for this weekend was an added perk.
“I was talking to one player and he said it felt like the Olympic village,” Safriet said. “Everyone was mixed in together and got to socialize before and between games. I think that a lot of the players really enjoyed the way it was set up.”
Statesboro secured the final rounds of the tournament by promoting itself via video and by rolling out the red carpet when representatives of the event visited town. Last weekend, the planning committee — including Clubhouse owner Darin VanTassell and Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Heidi Jeffers — executed again, pulling off a smoothly run tournament played on quality fields and producing the high level of soccer that is synonymous with the Georgia State Cup.
But the biggest highlight of the weekend was also the newest aspect of the final four.
With the assistance of Georgia Southern staff, all games played at the GSU stadium were able to be streamed live, for free, over the internet, something that Safriet said was something that future tournaments would love to continue.
“We got so much positive feedback about the games that we streamed,” Safriet said. “I heard from one of the directors of the Tophat organization who was in Italy. He said that he was sitting in his hotel watching the games. He loved it. We loved it.”
Statesboro's hosting obligations have concluded, but the season continues for many teams that were in action over the weekend. Now through the state level, 22 teams from Georgia will advance to play at the regional level in the coming weeks.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408 and at email@example.com.