Forget holiday shopping–for around 2,000 soccer players, Black Friday means one thing: The start of the 31st annual West Deptford Thanksgiving Soccer Tournament.
Two hundred thirty-one teams will descend on 26 fields throughout the township and into Woodbury in a massive, three-day tournament, which draws teams from throughout New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York.
The tradition of having Canadian teams in the draw started several years ago, after coaches from the Great White North responded to a post on a soccer blog, and they’ve been coming back ever since.
“They enjoy the competition, and they enjoy the time off,” said tournament co-director Ken Boody. The Canadian squads from FC Mont Bruno in Quebec, who already had their Thanksgiving more than a month ago, are soccer academy teams, with most of them playing eight hours of soccer a day, Boody said, making the tournament something of a break for them.
Getting the teams down from Canada and in from around the region is more than a six-month process for Boody, co-director Mike Watts and their 15-person tournament committee, who handle paperwork, permissions for various teams, schedules and everything in between in their aim to create the best experience possible for the teams who roll into town.
“It's getting back to where it should be,” Boody said.
And that’s a highly-competitive weekend for kids from age 8 on up through the high school level, with as many as four brackets in each age group to suit every playing ability.
“The kids love it,” Boody said. “Everybody wants to play someone they haven't played before.”
It’s a five-day process for the committee to pull the schedule together, but Boody said the human element makes for better matches than if a computer cranked out the brackets.
“We pride ourselves on doing the matches ourselves,” he said.
The initial rounds will play out Friday and Saturday on fields at , , the and over in Woodbury, with the finals slated for Sunday at the park.
The tournament is the league’s big fundraiser, and the proceeds go toward funding the league and various professional clinics for its players, with obvious benefits, Boody said.
“The kids are getting better and the high school teams are getting better,” he said.
And more than just improving locals, Boody said, the tournament serves as a model for other programs that want to try to pull off a similar event.
Help from the township Parks and Recreation department and the high school athletic department are key to making the tournament as successful as it is, Boody said. Parks and Recreation workers were out Wednesday, pumping water from the flooded Little League parking lots, and department head Greg Ley said they’d be out first thing Friday morning to give things a once-over, re-lining fields where necessary.
While nearly everything is set at this point, Watts and Boody and a handful of volunteers will be out there this morning to set up tents and make sure everything is set for the big day. It’s hectic, but things always come together.
“It’ll be organized chaos by Friday morning,” Boody said.