Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Grace Cup

I'd like to think that now I know how farmers feel. All of last week I had one eye on the weather forecast and the other on the clouds as I waited to see if Mother Nature was going to wash away the inaugural Grace Cup on Saturday, June 20.

Team members and coaches from the inaugural Grace Cup.

I'm used to issues with foul weather, having had it determine my schedule as The Journal-News sports editor for the last eight years, but never have I been on this side of the rainout dilemma, as the actual organizer of an event.

The rain situation was one of several issues that had me borderline neurotic leading up to the game. (my beautiful and ever supportive wife Mary might remove the adjective "borderline").

Recent Hillsboro High School graduates Bradley Hill and Alexis Hefley volunteered their time to help us out! Alexis manned the table, and Bradley sang the National Anthem.

I was still adding players to the rosters the week before the game, trying to get up to 15 on each team, a plateau that I would not reach. My biggest challenge in this was not the willingness of players to play, but the fact that I was trying to get players to commit to the game when they had other things on their mind, namely their high school graduation.

Had I thought of the game in August instead of April, things might have gone more smoothly, although as my good friend Travis Matthews, coach of the Area All-Stars, reminded me, I am dealing with 17 and 18 year old kids here.

Hanging out with Uncle Daniel, and Grandma and Grandpa during the game.

I also fretted about concessions, referees and programs in the week leading up to the game. By some act of God, all of it seemed to come together in the end.

The RHSA, the Herman family and Donna and Jerry Wagahoff of West End in Raymond generously donated time, food and all the proceeds ($200) from the concession stand to put my fears to rest.
Another friend, Tim Gould of Carlinville, not only agreed to be one of the referees for the game, but he also secured another official, Tony Baines of Virden, for the other side of the field. I can't thank both of them enough for taking time to come over to Raymond to help make the game a success.
The programs also turned out fantastic, after some minor issues figuring out how to get them printed correctly, due in large part to the help of my father-in-law.

There's always time to play with puppies!

Ultimately even the two biggest worries of the day turned out to be minor blips on the radar. The field was a little damp from a week's worth of rain, but Saturday was nothing but sunshine when we kicked off at 5 p.m.

The player situation was touch and go for a while, especially after two players backed out that morning and a third didn't show up, but all worked out well in the end.

Aunt Anne came to visit and get a "vuvuzela!"

We shuffled two players from Staunton, Adam Mongold and Conner Wiles, to the Area All-Stars, giving them an extra shirt as a bonus. Mongold quickly became one of my favorite characters of the day, as he said the Grace Cup jerseys were now "the two nicest shirts I own."

I had a mild panic attack when the SCC scored 36 seconds into the game on a goal by Litchfield's Kelson Triplett, then again a minute later on a goal by Nick Copley of Pana, but Travis assured me that play would even out and everything was alright.

Grace also loved visiting with the spectators!

He was more or less right. The Area, who would have benefited from the three players who were unable to be at the game, trailed 9-2 going into halftime but probably had close to the same number of shots on goal as the SCC.

On the bright side, everyone seemed to be having fun, with the possible exception of Tyler Roth, Taylorville's all-sectional keeper who was took the brunt of the nine goals. At halftime I told Roth he did a great job and I meant it. He had a couple fantastic saves, as did fellow keepers Alex Hamerlinck and Arlen Magelitz, that would have made the any Sports Center highlight reel.

There were actually quite a few special moments on the field. Carlinville's Pietro Lentini and Lutheran's Adam Forestier both put on a clinic as they scored five goals each to lead their respective teams. They play different styles, but share the same ability to dominate on the field and were two of the best players I've seen in the area over the last eight years.

Kyle and Grace got interviewed by WSMI's Sarah Thomack after the game.

Copley would have four goals and was a force up top for the SCC. All that running took a toll on the Pana grad though, who seemed relieved when we shortened the game to 30 minutes in the second half due to the heat and lack of subs. This drew some chiding from SCC coach Jason Burke, who seemed to be having as much fun as the kids on the field.

Greenville's Will Schaufelberger would also score twice, including a stellar mid-air volley off a cross that may have been the goal of the game, while Mongold scored for the Area, who lost 12-6, but "won the second half" according to Coach Matthews.

Ultimately the game was just part of what made Saturday a success. All told, we raised $1,100 for the infantile neuroaxonal dystrophy research study at Washington University in honor of my daughter Grace, who is battling INAD and is the tournament's namesake.

Taking her out on the field for the ceremonial first kick was one of my two favorite moments from the game. The other was when I brought her out to the players after the game for the team photo.

Grace made the first official kick of the game!

I wanted them to see what we were raising money for. I wanted them to see what this stupid disease has taken away from my princess. But most of all, I wanted to thank them for playing in the game, because with out the players, the Grace Cup wouldn't be a reality.

And this won't be the last Grace Cup either. Throughout the game I talked with Travis, Jason and Terry Todt, who generously donated his services that day as well, about what we can do to make the game better.

Ultimately, I don't care if the game ever gets any bigger. I was thrilled with the amount we raised and the awareness we gained for soccer in this area and for INAD.

I imagine I'll do it for as long as I can, or for as long as players are still interested in playing. Ideally, I'll be doing it 15 years from now, watching Grace run around the field after graduating from Hillsboro High School, INAD nothing but a distant memory.

I'm not sure if that will ever happen or not, but then again, I wasn't sure we'd be playing soccer last Saturday either. Sometimes it feels awesome to be wrong.


No comments:

Post a Comment