Columbia soccer event well worth checking out


Howard At Play


THE 26TH Columbia Invitational Soccer Tournament, a Memorial Day weekend fixture and economic asset in this county that you really ought to experience, opens early Saturday, with finals May 28 at Fort Meade's Parade Grounds, not far off Route 175.

The Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County thinks its 270-team field is as competitively strong as it has been in recent years, said President Jim Carlan. He and others were - still are - worried about losing teams to a competing tournament run by the Potomac Soccer Club at the new Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown.

The usual Saturday night doubleheader at Howard High is an under-19 affair. At 7 p.m., the eight-time Bethesda Falcons girls plays the six-time Eastern Pennsylvania champion Council Rock Blast. And at 9, Columbia Re-United, an amalgam of Columbia high school players now in college, play the West Babylon (N.Y.) Panthers, last year's under-17 national boys champions.

Director Karen Dye said the tournament honors the memory of Tom MacEwen, a Panthers star who died at 17 in an auto accident July 8. Despite several years of trying, West Babylon has never won a Columbia title.

Suggestion: Get a program Saturday morning at Centennial High or the Columbia-east library fields in Owen Brown village, then find games or age groups you would like to see.

Witness to tragedy

Lots of Howard County soccer players experience the game abroad, but only one (we think) has witnessed one of those stadium tragedies that bedevil the sport.

He is Sam Salganik, The Sun's Howard County Player of the Year and an All-Metro and All-State defender in 1997 at River Hill High as well as standout on several Bill Stara-coached SAC/HC travel teams.

Sam was in attendance May 10, when police fired tear gas into the stands during fighting and vandalism after a game in Accra, Ghana, between teams that have been rivals since the 1920s.

Result: chaos, 126 deaths, civil disturbances, and an official police apology over what was called the worst stadium carnage in African soccer's history. It was the third multifatality stadium incident this year on that continent, with a total of 177 fans killed.

Sam, taking a year away from Brown University, is studying at the University of Ghana. He's one of two sons of Bill, a Sun colleague who referees locally, and Laura Salganik. Sam and friends, seated in the crammed, 40,000-seat stadium among fans of the winning Accra team, escaped injury.

Losing fans, Sam wrote in an e-mail, "started ripping their seats out and throwing them onto the field from [another part of] the upper deck. So the police on the field fired tear gas, and everyone started running for the exits, but some of them were locked. Plus the stairways down from the upper deck were really narrow, and the railings collapsed.

"Some people were trampled, and many fell from the stairs (maybe 20-30 feet) and were trapped between the stairs and a concrete wall. Then people fell on top of them, and so on. While this was going on, I was still in the crowd fighting to get to those stairwells to avoid the tear gas.

"Eventually, we figured out not to rush for the stairs, and we just went back and sat down in our seats and waited for the crowd to clear out.

"When we left, [that] was the first I saw of the collapsed railings, blood, and people's shoes, and stuff like that all over the stairs, and bodies below. It was really very sad. I saw maybe five or 10 bodies, and I was amazed that so many people died. ... After I saw the bodies, I just tried to get out of there as fast as I could. There was really nothing [to be done] to help. ... Accra's a smaller town than you would expect, and it seems everyone knows someone who died."

Sam, who did not play soccer at Brown, made a team of university foreigners in Ghana.

"It's pretty disorganized," he wrote. "I haven't seen the coach for a month."

But he's hanging on, he said, trying to find sponsors to pay for a team "tour of Togo, Benin and/or Nigeria" with the objective of making August's West African University Games in Ghana.

Call the writer at 410-332-6525 or address e-mail to

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.