Tournament kicks off Memorial Day weekend


Howard At Play


THEY MADE IT. Despite rain that dogged contractors for weeks, the first soccer games were played yesterday at Covenant Park, the Soccer Association of Columbia-Howard County's new $5.5 million home across from Centennial Park.

As advertised, the club's 28th Columbia Invitational Tournament, a Memorial Day weekend fixture, got under way about 8 a.m. with all three synthetic fields available and two grass fields completed. Three more grass fields will open this year.

Initial reviews from parents and players can be summed up in a word: raves. One New Jersey mother, a director of her son's club, learned that SAC-HC began tacking a surcharge on its registrations more than a decade ago to buy land and said: "Good for them. I can't wait for our next board meeting. People have got to see this."

Jim Carlan, SAC-HC's operations director and the club leader and coach who pushed that initial savings plan, was all smiles yesterday. Dave Procida, who as club president brought the land deal home, had a huge grin.

"It's a rough opening," Procida said, but he was referring merely to straw covering public areas that eventually will be grass, and the lack of a club headquarters. The last work, putting rubber pellets on the last of three synthetic fields, ended about 7:30 p.m. Friday. Macadam for the road and parking lot was finished about 2 p.m.

For the record, the first goal at Covenant Park was a penalty kick by Patrick Ryan of the Bethlehem (N.Y.) Knights, an under-13 team. The first goal by a Howard resident came from Phil Martinelli, off a second-half breakaway for the SAC-HC United Premier under-13 team.

Helping a friend

Volleyball House in Elkridge will be the scene of a relatively unusual fund-raiser Wednesday evening. Colleagues of Michael Jones, a teacher at High Road School in Clinton, Prince George's County, will be playing in a tournament to raise funds for cancer. Jones' illness was diagnosed this year.

Teams from seven other High Road schools, special-education schools for children with emotional and behavioral problems, are paying to compete, as will several others. Elkridge Furnace Inn, a Volleyball House neighbor, is donating prizes.

Mike Kaufman, the Clinton school's director, said the idea for a volleyball tournament came from the American Cancer Society.

"We thought it was a great way to raise money. It's coed, people get to do something, and hopefully, it'll be a fun event - all to help Mike. Obviously, he means a lot to the kids and to the staff."

Triathlon trial

Last Sunday's 23rd Columbia Triathlon, which may sound like a local race centered on Centennial Park but is a major event on the East Coast, produced a top finisher with Howard County ties.

Matt Cooke, 24, lives in Washington but is part of the Ellicott City-based Du2R duathlon (bike-run) team. Cooke finished second in the pro division - and overall out of 1,400 entrants - to one of the sport's biggest names, Canadian Peter Reid, defending three-time champion of Hawaii's famed Ironman Triathlon. Reid's composite time of 1 hour, 56 minutes, 50 seconds was 64 seconds shy of the course record, set by a Floridian in 1997.

Afterward, Cooke, who finished 53 seconds behind Reid, wrote about his performance for teammates, providing insight into what top-flight athletes suffer to reach world-class status. Excerpts:

"The start of the [5-kilometer] swim [in Centennial Lake] went well enough, but midway, I got vicious stomach cramps that made me want to float on my back, they hurt so bad. I don't know what they were from, but they definitely slowed me down. The good news was I was fifth out of the water.

" ... Peter took his sweet time in catching me around Mile 2 and put a move on me that I could not go with. I felt completely useless."

Cooke resumes racing today and tomorrow in Geel, Belgium, representing the local team and the United States in the professional bracket of the annual world duathlon championships.

Nine other Du2R team members, including John Elliott of Columbia, also qualified to compete in Belgium in amateur, age-group racing.

Call the writer at 410-332- 6525 or send e-mail to lowell.

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