By David Fong
TROY — It started out as a dream.
Two decades ago, longtime Troy soccer coach and enthusiast John Permenter wanted to put together a youth soccer tournament for teams in the region. This weekend, the Troy Strawberry Soccer Invitational will be celebrating its 20th tournament with games this Saturday and Sunday in Troy, Piqua and Tipp City.
“It’s a magic moment,” said Dave Pappas, who co-chairs the event along with his wife, Becky. The husband and wife team have been part of the tournament from its inception, first coaching their children’s teams before eventually joining the group of dedicated volunteers who help make the event happen every year.
Permenter — who passed away in 2013 — was able to see the tournament he helped create grow into one of the largest in the Midwest. When the tournament was first held in 1998, it took place at a single location, Duke Park in Troy. The tournament has long-since outgrown Duke and will take place at five locations: Duke Park, Archer Park and Ferguson Field in Troy, Pitsenbarger Park in Piqua and Kyle Park in Tipp City.
Also, the tournament used to be held during Strawberry Festival weekend in Troy, hence the tournament’s name. Eventually, however, the tournament outgrew the first weekend in June, as well, as tournament organizers found it too hard to find enough volunteers split between the soccer tournament and the Strawberry Festival itself.
Money raised from the event through entry fees, parking, concessions and souvenir sales will go to benefit youth soccer programs in all four of the host communities.
“No, not at all,” Pappas said when asked if he ever thought the tournament would ever grow as big as it has. “Especially in terms of the size. I think it was always our vision that it would continue as long as it has, but I don’t know that we ever thought it would get has big as it has. Youth soccer has continued to grow and we’ve kind of grown right along with it.”
This year’s tournament will actually be a little smaller in size, but that’s through no fault of the tournament itself. Due to changes to select soccer at the national level, players must now be older to participate and an entire age group within the tournament was lost. Still, though, 250 teams — as opposed to 332 a year ago — and several thousand people will be in the area for the tournament.
Rain is in the forecast for Sunday — inclement weather seemingly is every year — but as usual, Pappas and his team have contingency plans in place. The first involves delaying games by 30 minutes until the lightning has completely moved out of the area. Should games start getting backed up, any contest that reached halftime counts as a full game. In an extreme situation involving continuous storms, games could even be decided by penalty kicks or coin tosses.
“I was just going over those plans with everyone,” Pappas said. “It doesn’t help me to look at the forecast — although I did spend some time looking earlier.”
As the tournament has grown and progressed over the years, so have the volunteers running it — to the point Pappas said he feels confident it will be around for the next 20 years and beyond.
“We feel like we’ve got the depth on our committee and the quality we are looking for,” Pappas said.
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong