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Youth Boys Mar 12, 2013

“Sometimes you have to roll with the punches” – Strikers scramble to save Jeff Cup

By Charles Boehm

The sun was warm and bright in Richmond, Va. on Sunday as hundreds of Jefferson Cup matches played out across the Virginia capital. An occasional chilly breeze and shrinking piles of dirty snow in shady spots were the only remaining signs of the wintry chaos which had rolled through less than 96 hours beforehand.

Fittingly, winter had given way to spring on the same weekend that clocks were set forward for daylight saving time. And only a handful of the thousands on hand for the youth tournament had any idea that the whole thing was very nearly destroyed by a storm which had dropped heavy levels of rain and snow at midweek.

“People probably don’t understand how much water we got. If all they know is that they saw our weather today, they would be furious if we didn’t play,” Steve D’Adamo, assistant director of tournaments for host club Richmond Strikers, told Soccerwire.com on Sunday.

“Tuesday we went to sleep thinking, ‘We’re going to be OK, zero to two inches of snow.’ And there was two inches of snow on the ground when we woke up. We were like, ‘Uh oh, this might not happen at all.’”

Though Winter Storm Saturn, as the front was officially dubbed, did not strike the Mid-Atlantic with the fury felt elsewhere, wet, heavy snow and accompanying rain would soak all of the match venues.

A rapidly-changing forecast and uncertain drainage speeds left Strikers officials sweating over the playability of their natural-grass fields as the clock ticked down towards Friday morning, when Jefferson Cup would kick off with Boys Weekend showcase play.

“Having 10 sites, we [normally] start setting up on Monday,” explained D’Adamo. “But having snow on Wednesday, you can’t set up – you can’t put up tarps and tents up and have four inches of wet snow come down on them.

“There was a lot of work, a lot of behind-the-scenes help on Thursday and Friday to get this weekend going.”

After Saturn rolled through central Virginia, D’Adamo, tournament director Chris Friant and their colleagues found most of their fields buried in snow – or worse, “water with a layer of ice on top,” in D’Adamo’s words.

They decided to move all of Friday’s matches to artificial-turf fields, a shift that would’ve been impossible just a few years ago, before the construction of the enormous complex of all-weather turf fields in Midlothian, Va. once called SportsQuest and now known as the River City Sportsplex.

“Without River City it would have been very difficult for us to do this. River City gave us an extra 24 to 48 hours,” admitted D’Adamo. “Friday would not have been played if we did not have River City. West Creek [a grass fields complex] would have been destroyed if we had to play on it yesterday [Saturday].”

But that created a whole new set of problems, as nearly an entire three-day slate of matches among 904 teams – and all the myriad logistics that acccompany it – had to be rescheduled at the last minute.

“We have site coordinators that we have to move around because the fields are closed or we’re opening up more fields [elsewhere],” he added. “The port-a-johns; ice delivered for Gatorade; golf carts – how many do we need? – to even Gatorade themselves, the amount of product they need, to when games start and end; t-shirts, the sizes, because as teams get shifted around, the ages get shifted around, which means the sizes of t-shirts that sell get shifted around. So all of that.”

High winds on Friday gave way to intermittent sunshine and warmer temperatures on Saturday, all of which helped to drain the moisture off the grass fields in time for most of them to go back into use on Sunday.

A corner flag flaps in the heavy winds on the tournament's opening day.D’Adamo admits that moving games to turf fields and keeping floodlights on to fit more games in deeper into the evening incurred additional costs for the tournament.

And as enormous as this event has become (904 teams in all), creating or altering its master schedule is handled by just one person, Friant.

“We had contingency plans – we probably used [Plan] Z – I think we’re in the double letters now!” said D’Adamo. “Regardless, we’re trying to put on an event. Sometimes you take a financial hit, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you have to roll with the punches and make the best out of it. And I think that’s what we did.

“It’s been tiring from a logistical standpoint, but the players, I don’t think they really see a difference.”

Jefferson Cup resumes this Friday with the kickoff of Girls Weekend showcase play.

+Find the full range of our Jefferson Cup coverage here ]

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