What has 8,800 legs? Columbia soccer tournament

May 31, 1992|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,Staff Writer

Louise Waxler's interest is not in the numbers.

The Columbia Invitational Soccer Tournament -- which last weekend involved 500 games between 4,400 players from Canada, Spain and across the United States -- was just business as usual to her.

"The tournament was always successful, but we've brought it to another level," said Waxler, director of the tournament. "We stress quality and not so much size."

But it's hard not to consider the numbers.

The annual Memorial Weekend event last week brought in 8,000 people. It filled every hotel room in Columbia and Laurel, according to tournament officials. Some 220 teams participated. Sixty others were turned away when the tournament reached its limit.

"We just don't have the facilities," Waxler said. "With county budget cuts, field maintenance isn't what it used to be, and there are a limited number of referees, because there are three other tournaments in the Baltimore-Washington area that same weekend."

In fact, she adds, "We'll probably have to scale back a bit next year, because we didn't have enough referees for some younger teams, and we want to maintain quality."

Out-of-town referees had to be brought in this year. To manage the tournament -- among the largest in the country -- Waxler oversaw a $60,000 budget and 27 volunteers, who coordinated competition for 15 age groups and arranged everything from hotels to concessions.

It's a massive undertaking that requires lots of energy, persistence and determination.

Waxler fits the bill. During the tournament, which started with a 4 p.m. Friday registration and finished with the end of cleanup (this year it was 7:30 p.m. Monday), Waxler is constantly on hand to supervise.

"The tournament takes over my life, and my family becomes orphans for three days," she said. "But they've been very supportive."

The 43-year-old Pittsburgh native has two daughters, Jamie and Lindsay. Lindsay is the soccer player whose participation caused her mother to become involved. She plays for Wilde Lake High School and for the under-15 Columbia Cleats.

Waxler's full-time job is director of operations for the 20-year-old Soccer Association of Columbia, which has 3,800 registered players this year, the largest number ever.

She became involved with the annual tournament when she was recruited as a girls coordinator after moving to Columbia seven years ago. For the next two years she was a co-director with Ellicott City resident Donna Fulton. Then Waxler became sole director.

Planning begins in August.

"It's nearly a year-round thing," Waxler said. "It just couldn't come off with one or two months of work."

This year's expenses included $9,000 for trophies and $17,000 for referee fees. The county Parks and Recreation Department charged $15 per team to use its fields. And for the first time, because of the county's field shortage, games were played at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County campus, which cost another $2,800.

Tournament money is raised through entry fees, corporate sponsors and program advertisements and sales.

The tournament also laid out $12,000 for T-shirts, which are sold for a profit -- it gives a percentage to teams traveling from out-of-state. The donated sum was $12,000 a year ago. Thirteen fields were used this year, and portable cellular phones kept communication flowing smoothly among those sites.

The tournament had its share of problems this year: One player fainted from heat exhaustion, teams from Canada and Virginia walked off the field to protest officiating in two separate incidents, and a mother of one young player was ordered from the sidelines for abusive behavior toward officials.

But some parents do come up and thank Waxler.

"The positive outweighs the negative," Waxler said. "This is more than a tournament. It's an event."

Two members of the U.S. team that won the first women's World Cup, Shannon Higgins and Debbie Belkin, handed out the girls trophies this year.

"You should have seen the eyes on the 10-year-olds," Waxler said. "They were especially thrilled."

Three Columbia boys teams won their age divisions, the under-11 Columbia Select, the under-14 Columbia Hornets and the under-16 Columbia Phoenix. Four other Columbia teams lost in the finals.

Two county players, Krista Fulton and Mike Curtis, each won $1,000 college scholarships awarded by Maryland Property Group, a county real estate management company.

And the Jack and Ellie Boussy Award, given to someone who has made a special contribution to county soccer, went to countian Mike Curry.

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