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Tournaments Apr 11, 2012

Virginian Memorial Day tourney honors vets with Wounded Warrior Project partnership

By Roger Gonzalez

War and soccer: They are two vastly different entities, yet both share levels of passion and intensity that sometimes prompt comparison. This Memorial Day weekend, however, one large Northern Virginia youth tournament will pay tribute those who have paid the heaviest price in the arena of combat that truly matters.

The 37th edition of the Virginian Memorial Day Soccer Tournament is a sponsor of the Wounded Warriors Project, a group that aims to help injured service members, raise awareness and enlist public aid for the needs of those who have been injured.

For the tournament and its organizers, this year’s goals couldn’t be clearer.

“When I became tournament director, I was looking for something to do that could represent the tournament and give back to somebody,” the Virginian’s Dotty Talbott told The Soccer Wire this week. “Well, it’s Memorial Day weekend and all about honoring the military. And I thought, ‘What a great cause.’

“I contacted [Wounded Warriors Project] and they have a whole program where you become a sponsor.”

Talbott didn’t let the opportunity pass. The Virginian will donate $10 to WWP for every team application for the tournament, a long list given that some 400 squads which will be traveling from all over the East Coast, as well as Canada, to participate.

“I really wanted people to think a little differently,” she said. “We are lucky and fortunate, but there are people that aren’t that lucky. I wanted our tournament to have a purpose. It’s a perfect time to honor the military.”

Founded in Roanoke, Va. in 2002 by veteran John Malia, a retired Marine who was injured in a helicopter crash during U.S. peacekeeping operations in Somalia in 1992, the Wounded Warrior Project was created in response to what he and several of his colleagues saw as a new generation of soldiers, sailors and airmen coming home from the nation’s multiple overseas military operations with more serious mental, physical and psychological scars than ever before.

While improved battlefield medical technology was saving more U.S. lives, extremists in Iraq and Afghanistan were using increasingly destructive tactics and weapons to maim and injure them, and the Veterans’ Administration found its resources stretched to breaking point as they returned home in droves.

“So many of our Warriors have not only suffered multiple wounds – physical and emotional – but face multiple challenges, including uneven access to care, gaps in treatment and barriers to achieving economic empowerment,” said WWP executive director Steven Nardizzi in remarks to the Congressional Committees on Veteran Affairs earlier this year.

“We hope to work together in addressing the changes necessary in order to foster the most successful and well-adjusted generation of wounded warriors in our nation’s history.”

WWP uses a mascot named “Filis” to describe its five core values of fun, integrity, loyalty, innovation and service, all virtues that translate well into the world of youth soccer, where intense competitiveness can sometimes distract parents and participants from what matters in the big picture.

“I wanted it to count for something more than just playing on the soccer field,” Talbott said of the Virginian, which she began managing over the winter. “We focus so much on whether we win. There has to be more to it. There is more to life than just winning a sporting event – it’s your character and sportsmanship as well.”

This is the first year that the Virginian will serve as a sponsor for WWP, and Talbott and her staff hope to grow their contribution by giving players, coaches and parents the opportunity to donate individually as well. The hope is that each player at the event could also bring at least a quarter to contribute, which could help them raise at least another $1,000.

At the time of the tournament, Talbott urges those involved, and even those not in attendance, to really remember what is important on that special weekend.

“These kids are so fortunate that they are able to play soccer,” she said. “They are not handicapped in any way. Think what the weekend is all about: honoring the military. All these men and women are fighting for our freedom.”

So while the kids are battling to score that last-gasp goal, make the heroic save or contain possession while holding the advantage, the tournament itself will be doing its part to simply give thanks to the true heroes.

[ +Visit the Virginian’s website to learn more ]

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