I have to shake my head in amazement when I see what has happened to the Columbia Invitational Soccer Tournament since the day it started four decades ago. It began when three soccer enthusiasts asked a simple question: "Why do we have to travel every year to other tournaments on Memorial Day? Why can't we have our own tournament here?"
That question made sense, so the matter was relayed to the leadership of the Columbia Flier, and so began a small competition involving just local teams. That little get-together evolved into this past weekend's 39th annual Columbia Invitational, which celebrated its largest turnout ever with 642 teams and approximately 12,000 players from as far away as Florida and Canada. Organized by Elites Tournaments for the Soccer Association of Columbia, this tournament involves the use of 50 soccer fields in Howard, Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Baltimore Counties.
Of the 642 teams, eight were state champions and another 14 were state championship finalists. Every year, the tournament has consistently brought out a better level of competition. One other important fact about this tournament is that all games are played on high-quality fields. It's easy to see how far the tournament has come since those early days, when fields were often uneven and sometimes dangerous to play on.
According to director Dominic Popolizio, this year's tournament had an economic impact on the community with over 5,000 rooms having been rented at local hotels. Let's not forget that people have to eat somewhere as well.
An added attraction this year was the introduction of a showcase format for those in the 17-and-over age group, where one game is played a day and those games are longer. That format has apparently attracted over 100 college scouts.
This tournament must compete with dozens of competing Memorial Day tournaments and it can still draw the best of the best. It's incredible to see just what those fine folks have been able to accomplish.
Successful spring season
Howard County coordinator of athletics John Davis must be joining a number of coaches across the county who are all smiling after such a successful spring season in high school sports.
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The Marriotts Ridge Mustangs showed a great deal of strength with a 18-5 drubbing of Oakdale to capture the Maryland 3A/2A girls lacrosse championship — its third title in four years. The Howard Lions came up short against a tough South River team in the 4A/3A boys lacrosse championship, but still put together a program-record 18 wins.
The Reservoir baseball team captured the Class 3A state title at Ripken Stadium with a 2-0 win over a very good North Harford team. Then, it was River Hill's turn to get it done in tennis, winning the boys doubles championship — the first Howard County boys doubles tennis title in almost 30 years. Last but certainly not least, the Long Reach boys track and field team claimed its second consecutive state title over the weekend at Morgan State University.
That makes four state crowns and one runner-up. Not a bad haul. That's not even including the numerous individual outdoor track state champions.
Let's not forget the head coaches: Amanda Brady at Marriotts Ridge, Jimmy Creighton at Howard, Adam Leader of Reservoir, Ruben Vargas at River Hill and Long Reach's Pete Hughes. Good coaching can go a long way, and these folks know exactly what it takes.
World Cup preparation
Local soccer fans who might be into the FIFA World Cup should take advantage of the upcoming programs provided by the Howard County Central Library on Little Patuxent Parkway.
From June 9-11, the library is offering programs each night from 7-8 p.m. on subjects like 'Rules of the Game,' 'Road to the World Cup,' and 'Let's Talk Soccer.'