TUMWATER – The Shelton Strikers’ U15 soccer team isn’t a select club, but coach Chad Sweitzer always seeks strong competition.
The Strikers even traveled to a tournament last month in Spokane, where they placed second despite being the only non-select team in their bracket.
But with the recession limiting travel for many teams, he said he was happy to have his squad at the 30th Kick in the Grass tournament at Tumwater High School on Friday. Sweitzer, whose son, Jordan, plays for the Strikers, was among the hundreds of soccer parents in the South Sound for the area’s largest youth soccer tournament.
Kick in the Grass runs through Sunday.
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There are 37 boys teams participating but only four in the Strikers’ age bracket.
Sweitzer said he believes that number is down because of the economy. He said sponsors traditionally have funded many programs, but a lot of businesses aren’t able to contribute this year.
“We’ve done car wash after car wash since February,” said Sweitzer, adding that there are more tournaments than ever in the Northwest to accommodate the growing sport.
He said some businesses have recently stepped up, and Sweitzer has an offer for those who provide assistance. The Strikers are creating a banner that features sponsors on the South Mason soccer fields and also are cleaning outside businesses for six hours if they donate $250.
The girls tournament boasts a larger field, with 46 teams coming from places such as Redmond and Richland. Kim Romeis, whose daughter, Teagan Harper, plays for Legacy Fire U13, traveled from Arlington for Kick in the Grass.
The team was supposed to play in the Netbuster tournament last weekend in nearby Marysville, but it was canceled.
Despite the approximately 110-mile commute one way, in addition to hotel expenses, Romeis isn’t concerned about the cost of club soccer. She said Legacy Fire still participates in three or four summer tournaments, but the club has cut fees down from $1,400 last year to $650 because of the recession, which doesn’t include travel expenses.
“That’s very affordable,” she said. “We treat the tournaments as mini-vacations.”
Washougal’s Jason Blankenship has a daughter, Alyssa, who plays for Vancouver United U12. He still pays $1,500, but said the expense is well worth the experience his daughter receives.
“You can measure where you’re at by playing teams from other parts of the state,” he said. “It’s a good warm-up for the fall season.”
Alyssa Blankenship has played only two years for United but can’t imagine how she would spend her summer without the team.
“It get a lot more exercise than I would by staying home,” she said.
Lacey’s Stacy Magee and her husband, Nathan, spend $2,600 in fees for their three children to play club soccer. While Leah, who plays for Black Hills U12, was at Tumwater, her older sister, Sya, was in Puyallup with her Black Hills U14 team. Seth, 9, also plays.
Magee likes that the club tournaments have become a family pastime. She also feels her children have gained some valuable life experiences through soccer. A year after struggling through most matches, Leah’s team is performing well.
“It makes you feel like you can do anything,” she said.
Sweitzer, 37, a 1990 Shelton High graduate, hopes his players feel that way as well.
Besides their goal of winning the tournament, he also wants them focused on the future.
“I told them my goal is to have a soccer scholarship if they want to continue playing after high school,” he said. “The more important part is the education and having it paid for.”