The Daily Pilot Cup, the youth soccer tournament, was at its biggest in its 11th year.
The soccer extravaganza in Costa Mesa featured 201 teams representing 30 schools. Close to 2,500 children competed with their classmates in this special event.
While it's true the tournament is all about the kids. It would not be made possible without all the help involved.
Pilot Cup director Kirk McIntosh likes to point out that the six-day tournament is run by volunteers. They're not paid, he reminds you.
One of the most valuable volunteers is referee coordinator Jeff Grant.
The Costa Mesa resident officiates several games and recruits other referees to help during the week, working games for free.
With nearly 300 games to cover, Grant and the Pilot Cup referees were plenty busy. The tournament website helped with organization, but Grant was still working his phone and sending e-mails to make sure every game was covered.
It brings relief to McIntosh. There was chaos before Grant came along.
McIntosh heard stories of some games that had to be officiated by a parent of a player. In the past, the start of other games were delayed because there were no referees. That threw off the rest of the day's schedule.
Now every game has officials. Most of the championship games had three referees. This year, also had an added feature with a referee. Former NBA player Michael Cage made his return as a Daily Pilot Cup referee.
Grant was happy to recruit Cage and others.
McIntosh was relieved to have Grant help.
"Without him, I'm in trouble," McIntosh said of Grant. "He's a stalwart. With the refs, this tournament really struggles."
Grant, 55, said the majority of the referees don't have kids who are in the tournament. Grant is one of them. He has other reasons for helping.
"I enjoy watching the games," Grant said. "I enjoy working with the kids. I just have a fantastic time working with kids. When you work a game you have the best vantage point and you appreciate the skill level of the players."
Grant is grateful for the referees who volunteer for the tournament, but he made it a point to credit one in particular. Juan Hernandez has officated up to 25 games during the tournament. They call him, "Iron Man."
"He's probably the only guy who does more than me," Grant said.
Last year, a player tried to illegally compete for two Our Lady Queen of Angels teams at the Daily Pilot Cup.
This year, more controversy ensued. Killybrooke used a seventh-grade player during the second half of its boys' fifth- and sixth-grade silver division quarterfinal game against Victoria Saturday, Victoria Coach Michelle Thrall said.
With the score tied, 0-0, at halftime, Thrall noticed Killybrooke brought in a talented striker that was not used in the first half. At first, Thrall said she thought he came to the game late. But Thrall heard a seventh-grader behind her say that the Killybrooke striker is in one of his classes. It was true, Thrall said.
Victoria won the game, 1-0, but Thrall said Killybrooke was disqualified after the game. Not that it mattered, Killybrooke had already been eliminated. Still, Thrall was stunned the seventh-grade player competed in the second half.
"I was disappointed," Thrall said. "With it being 0-0 at the half. I think that's the only reason they did it."
Controversies aside, the tournament is an exciting time for the young players. The majority of the adults realize this and they go out of their way to help out.
There were several high school and college students who coached teams, being a part of the tournament they once played in. Jack McBean, a freshman at Corona del Mar High, helped out by coaching the Mariners Christian boys' third- and fourth-grade gold divsion team. Mariners Christian won the championship.
McBean was supposed to be at a practice for his Olympic Development Program team in Fullerton but he realized the impact he had made on the players and he didn't want to miss out on the celebration.
Jenny Burks also sacrificed for her players. The Sonora teacher coached the boys' fifth- and sixth-grade gold division team.
She missed her 5-year-old daughter's dance recital to be with her team as they competed in a penalty-kick shootout to see who would remain alive in the tournament.
Sonora won the penalty-kick shootout against Newport Coast, 2-1, to advance to the quarterfinals Saturday. Sonora later lost to Andersen in an exciting game that ended on penalty kicks.
Katrina Foley, the Costa Mesa coucilwoman, also helped out during the tournament. She worked the snack bar and even coached a team for a game. She received a phone call Saturday that a coach was not going to show, so she left for a bit from the snack bar to become a coach, her first coaching experience.
Her debut wasn't too shabby. The Sonora boys' third- and fourth-grade bronze division team won, 5-0.
"It was super fun," Foley said. "The kids were great. Everyone was so cooperative."
The championship team photos are set to be published later in the week in a special section. I've received a few phone calls asking about that. They are coming.
The Daily Pilot could not report on each championship game at the tournament. But we are taking article submissions by a team parent or coach. We'll run those Thursday and the rest of the week, if need be.