By John L. Pitts
TUPELO - The state's best youth soccer teams have invaded the Sportsplex at Ballard Park this weekend for the Mississippi Soccer Association's Division I championship tournament.
There are 99 boys and girls select teams, in age divisions ranging from 11-under to 17-under, playing on 15 fields starting at 8 a.m. today.
The MSA State Cup tournament continues through Sunday.
"This is a great opportunity for us to show off our complex to folks from all over the state," said Seth Gaines, one of the sports directors for the Tupelo Department of Parks and Recreation.
A throng of workers from the Parks and Rec office and the Tupelo Youth Soccer Association have swarmed the Sportsplex for the last couple of days to get things ready.
"We had some T-ball games on Tuesday, so we came in Wednesday and got the fields painted and everything in place," Gaines said. "It's all come together very nicely."
And that includes a weather forecast with, at last check, a zero percent chance of rain for the next two days. It will be hot, though, with forecast highs of 87 degrees today and 88 on Sunday.
"Oh, yes, it's going to be hot - but at least it won't be raining," Gaines said.
Which was welcome news for Alex Farned, soccer director of the Tupelo Futbol Club and Northern District director for the state association.
"The MSA puts on three big state tournaments each year and the first two, it rained throughout both of them," Farned said. "We have lucked out."
He was on the Sportsplex fields Friday afternoon, applying some final touches.
"As the tournament host, there is a lot of preparation that goes into an event like this," he said. "We start preparing 3 to 4 months out."
There are nine Tupelo Futbol Club teams in the field. Winners here in the older age groups (14-through-17) will earn an automatic berth into regional competition in Texas.
The event will have an estimated economic impact of at least $250,000 for the city, according to an estimate by Neal McCoy of the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"That's based on what we have done in similar events in the past," McCoy said, noting that the CVB planned to circulate surveys at the event to better evaluate "how long people are staying, how much they're spending on meals and so forth."
The tourney is the first of several major outdoor sporting events, including big baseball and softball tournaments, set for Tupelo this summer. "But we have already had 8 to 10 weekends of events here already this year," Gaines said. "Regardless of the sport, eveny one of these events is important to us."
Preliminary age group play is on the schedule today and Sunday morning. The finals will be late Sunday afternoon.
Score updates for the event will be available online at www.mississippisoccer.org