By Jenny Neyman
July 31 heralds a turning point of summer in Kenai. Dipnetting and Kenai River king fishing are over for the year, taking with them a large chunk of the visitors who support the area’s summer tourism economy. Come August, it’s a steady decline in people and summer business revenue.
Not this year. Kenai is poised to see a serious kick in visitors and business revenue during the second week in August, thanks to the thousands of people coming to town for the Alaska Youth Soccer Association State Cup Tournament.
“We pretty much peak the last week of dipnetting, and it just kind of peters out from there,” said Natasha Ala, executive director of the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. “From a visitor standpoint, I think it will be a nice little boost to the community, for sure. I think it’s going to definitely register on people’s radar. It’s a nice little flurry to the economy at the end of the season.”
Fifty-eight boys and girls teams from across Alaska, from U-12 on up to U-18 teams, will be in Kenai from Monday to Aug. 15 to participate in the state tournament. Paul Ostrander, on the Kenai Peninsula Soccer Club Board of Directors, said he’s expecting 1,800 to 2,000 players, coaches and parents. Ala said she wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up being significantly more visitors than that, maybe up to 5,000, with family members, siblings and everyone else involved. While here, those folks will be patronizing local hotels, bed and breakfasts, restaurants and other businesses, she said.
“That’s a really good way to finish out the seasons for a lot of these businesses,” Ala said. “Some of them have done really good this year, but some have been having a bit of a struggle. I know that there are a lot of businesses that will really benefit from this boost at the end of the season from this tournament.”
Hosting the state championship tournament is a competitive process, Ostrander said, and this is the second time Kenai’s been able to hold it here — in 2007 and now this year. It’s a huge logistical undertaking and requires a lot of work, but Ostrander said there are benefits, too. Aside from supporting the local economy, hosting the tournament gives local teams the advantage of playing at home, and gives local soccer enthusiasts a chance to see quality games.
“This competitive-level soccer is the highest level of soccer that you can see in the state of Alaska,” Ostrander said. “The U-18 boys, that’s as good as it gets. … These teams are made up of the ones that have really decided that soccer is their sport of choice. And all the way through, all the way down to the U-12 girls, that’s very good soccer at that age level.”
Ostrander said that comp league soccer, where kids try out to make a team, isn’t as well-known as the school sport or Boys and Girls Club recreational league soccer, and he thinks parents with kids who play soccer may be interested to know this option is out there.
“It’s a great opportunity for parents who may be interested in their kids playing a higher level of soccer to come out and see what level of soccer this is,” he said. “A lot of people aren’t even aware there is comp soccer, especially on the Kenai Peninsula. (Rec league) is an incredible program and has introduced a lot of kids to soccer, but I think a lot of parents wish there was a higher level of soccer available and don’t realize it’s available here on the Kenai Peninsula.”
Games will be played throughout the week at the Kenai Middle/High School soccer fields off Lawton Drive, at the FAA fields next to the Kenai Senior Citizens Center and at the brand-new city of Kenai Sports Complex fields off the Kenai Spur Highway just north of town. This tournament will be the first time the fields have see any use. A grand opening and ribbon-cutting event will be held at 6:30 p.m. Friday to celebrate the unveiling of the new fields.
“(The kids have) been chomping at the bit to get on those fields all summer. They should be absolutely beautiful. They haven’t been touched by soccer players, or any other players, for that matter, so they should be in beautiful shape for the state tournament,” Ostrander said.
Championship rounds will be played Aug. 15, with younger teams playing at KMS and older teams at the new sports complex. Ostrander said the state winners will go on to play at regionals in New Mexico next summer.
“There are a couple of local teams that definitely have a chance. There’s probably three or four local teams that have a real big shot of winning state, which is really big for us because, in the 10 years the Kenai Peninsula Soccer Club has been around, only one Kenai team has ever won state.”
For a schedule of games, visit http://www.kpsc.us.
Ostrander said volunteers still are needed to prepare for and run the tournament. Anyone interested can contact the board through the club’s Web site.