For 18 years and counting, Ray Atiyeh has worked tirelessly to expand and improve Lehigh Valley SportsFest, the annual summer amateur sports festival held in and around Allentown.
The same can be said for 2014.
New events always spark new interest among spectators and participants, and Atiyeh has once again added some intriguing ones, bringing the total number of activities — which numbered 16 in the inaugural Fest in 1997 — to about 40 for this year's event, which runs Thursday through Sunday, with headquarters at Cedar Beach.
Missing that World Cup fever? No problem, SportsFest has you covered. The new 3-on-3 indoor soccer tournament figures to be a popular event. It will be held at Game Time Fieldhouse in Breinigsville on Saturday and Sunday beginning as early as 8 a.m both days.
Youngsters will enjoy the new Find and Go Seek Playground at the Game Time Fieldhouse, which will provide sports and wellness-related activities, from art to music to soccer and obstacle courses. The playground will be open 10 to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
The playground is part of Atiyeh's push to get younger kids involved in athletics and playing sports.
"We want all children to get involved. These are the future athletes who will be in SportsFest," he says.
A few events are not returning — blue ball, softball and bowling.
For the first time, SportsFest will have a live band play at its kickoff party at Cedar Beach, which kicks off at 6 p.m. Friday. Hard rock band The Big Empty will perform.
Atiyeh also is stepping up the game with social media. After introducing a mobile phone app last summer, he has added more ways to follow winners and scores.
Past champions and directions to locations can also be found on the website.
The SportsFest YouTube page will have videos of events, instantly uploaded. The Facebook page will also provide updates and people can post questions.
Not only is this a good way to follow SportsFest, but it also helps give acknowledgment to amateur athletes.
"We're hoping the winners get more recognition with social media because most of the attention goes to pros and we want to give amateur athletes more exposure," Atiyeh says.
More food choices are also in store this summer. Atiyeh says last year's single vendor with traditional foods like burgers and hot dogs didn't offer enough variety. This year, you'll find tacos, chicken wings, sausages and Philly cheesesteaks. Healthier options will also be available, including fruit. And of course, you have to enjoy a little ice cream every once in a while.
There are a couple other changes for 2014 that involve location.
Atiyeh's dream of having one area for all events will not be realized, but the locations in 2014 will work out just fine. There will be two new locations — the Game Time Fieldhouse, for the soccer tournament, and Muhlenburg College, which will host wrestling and tennis matches. Wrestling will be held in the main gym of Muhlenburg, after being held at Allen and Dieruff high schools in the past. .
ON THE RISE
Test Your Metal: Test Your Metal, similar to Crossfit, has grown rapidly since it was introduced four years ago. Atiyeh says that the number of participants has doubled each year, after starting with just 63 participants in 2011. In 2012, the team competition was introduced. Last year there were 90 individuals and 100 teams of four. This year, they are expecting 167 individuals for Saturday and 145 teams of four on Sunday. A tremendous amount of physical strength is needed for the events, which involve running, obstacle courses and pulling weights, among other things. Atiyeh compares it to Navy Seal training. The event will have three divisions, including Rx, Scaled and Masters. It's open to men and women over 18, with weights scaled according to age. For the individual competition, the top three in each division will be recognized. In the team competition, the top three teams in the Rx and Scaled division will be recognized. Test Your Metal is at Cedar Beach, with the individual competition beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday and team competition at 10 a.m. Sunday.
Grass volleyball: Grass volleyball has also grown. This is its 16th year and interest has risen noticeably in the past couple of years, Atiyeh says. Atiyeh says all four sections of Alton Park will be filled up with grass volleyball. Play starts at 8:45 a.m. Saturday.
Dodgeball: This co-ed event requires at least three females on each team of eight. Teams will play a best of seven series to determine a winner and the tournament format will depend on the number of teams that enter. At Cedar Beach noon-6 p.m. Sunday.
STILL THE MOST POPULAR
Roller Hockey: The excitement of gliding around the asphalt on roller skates is back again at Cedar Beach — running 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. There will be three divisions, including youth (ages 10 and under), junior (ages 11-13) and intermediate (ages 14-17). Each team is guaranteed at least three games played in the round-robin format. First and second place winners will receive trophies and other prizes. Ice hockey will be played at a later date because of the amount of participants who play both.
Basketball: Boys and girls basketball will once again be the center of attention at Cedar Beach. 48 teams are expected for boys varsity. The Parkland Trojans have won the gold-medal game in back-to-back seasons and figure to have a target on their backs. There are three divisions — Varsity, JV, Risers — for both men and women. In men's, teams will be able to play at least three games, as basketball will also be a round-robin format. A single elimination championship tournament will follow. Prizes and trophies go to top teams, and a tournament MVP and all-tournament team will be announced. On the women's side, around 27 teams are expected to challenge Dunmore, the defending champion. It will be a double-elimination tournament all the way up until a one-game, winner-take-all championship game. Games will begin 5-10 p.m. today and Friday and continue 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and conclude 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
Flag football: Scoring, scoring and more scoring. If you're a fan of action-packed football games, flag football is the place to be. Another hit at SportsFest, flag football will again consist of a 5-on-5 tournament at Cedar Beach. The field dimensions are equivalent to arena football, at 25-by-50-yards long. This year's tournament is expected to be the largest SportsFest has ever seen, with teams from multiple states. All teams are guaranteed three games and will be put into four team brackets to start. Teams that go 3-0 or 2-1 will advance to the single elimination tournament to determine the champion. Cash prizes and trophies will go to winners and the runner-up. The games go from 8 a.m to 5 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
OTHER COOL STUFF
Dog agility: An interesting, different kind of event that allows humans and dogs to work together to navigate obstacle courses with jumps and tunnels. Each run will be timed and scored. Takes place at Cedar Beach 8 a.m to 5 p.m Saturday and 9-11 a.m. Sunday.
WXW Wrestling Show: This popular SportsFest feature includes sessions by students of the Wild Samoan Professional Wrestling Training Center 5-7 p.m. Friday. From 3-6 p.m Sunday, World Xtreme Wrestling will hold its annual super card event featuring many WXWC4 superstars, including the big match between Allentown's Joe Gomez and Boricua Beast Dan Maff.
Dance Demonstrations: Sharon Plessl School of Dance presents the Excel Dance Company, Tricia's Dance Extreme and Xcape Dance Academy fp performances at Cedar Beach 5-10 p.m. Sunday.
Stage Events: Events including power lifting, martial arts, zumba, yoga, dancing, cheering and more, at the stage at Cedar Beach near the pool 9 a.m to 10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m to 6 p.m on Sunday.
Zumba and Yoga: Kelly Powell will hold two zumba sessions, including one for kids, and Todd's Martial Arts and Fitness will present a zumba session. The kids session will be 10-11 a.m Saturday, Todd's will be 4-4:30 p.m Saturday, and Kelly's final session will be 9-10 a.m. Sunday. On the main stage at Cedar Beach. Erica McHugh and Emmaus Yoga invite you to join them on the lawn at Cedar Beach 11 a.m-noon Sunday.
•When: Thursday through Sunday
•Where: Most events at Cedar Beach. Other locations: Allentown Golf Course (golf), County Sports Fields or Cedarbrook Park (ultimate frisbee), Little Lehigh Parkway (disc golf, , YMCA/YWCA (ping-pong, table tennis), Percy Ruhe or Alton Park (grass volleyball), Game Time Fieldhouse (boot camp, indoor soccer, obstacle course) , Muhlenberg College (tennis, wrestling), Union Terrace Park (kickball), Wehr Damn Park (racquetball).
•Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday
•How much: Free
•Seating: Bleachers for basketball and WXW Wrestling show. Bring portable chairs for other events.
•Health and Fitness Expo: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m to 8 p.m. Sunday. Presentations with information on healthy living.
•Food: Vendors offer food and drink; no alcohol.