Jul. 25—FAIRMONT — East-West Stadium was the stage for the 11th Annual Fairmont Senior Kevin Carney 7v7 Tournament on Saturday, with high school soccer teams taking to the turf from the morning to the evening in the all-day event.
Thirty-two total teams between boys and girls squads faced off over the course of the nearly 12-hour tournament, which began at 9 a.m. The teams were separated into four pools of four teams each, with each team playing three games within their pool before the semis and eventual finals. With so many teams pitted against each other in one location, coaches from around the region use the annual tourney to give their players experience beyond their usual ken.
"Fairmont puts on a great event," said Steve Laraba, Woodrow Wilson's boys soccer coach. "And I want to see players applying things that we've worked on throughout the week. I use this to see how players have grown and improved, and just to come out and play some different competition. I think there's only one school here that we'll play in the regular season, which is good."
The tournament has grown to a much-anticipated event for soccer teams across the greater area. But in it's beginning, the 7-on-7 tournament was an example of necessity being the mother of invention.
Fairmont Senior boys head coach Darrin Paul said the event started after Paul saw how football teams held 7-on-7 games, and thought the same could be done with soccer. The first rendition of the tournament was supposed to be a one-off fundraising event for the soccer team's booster program, with around eight teams participating.
"Soccer is self-sufficient," Paul said Saturday. "We don't get any money from the county, we don't get any money from the school. The money that we raise is to help put uniforms on, for our trips. This is another fundraiser to help our booster organization to make sure our kids have the equipment they need."
But the feedback afterwards indicated to Paul that he was onto something.
"It was pretty successful, and word started getting out, coaches were calling me, saying "Are you going to do it again next year?" Paul said. "I said yes, it was a lot of fun. And then the girls team wanted to do it too, so we made a girls and a boys division."
The field of competition has grown as large as 40-plus teams over the years, and Paul would like to see the event continue to grow. The Polar Bears' coach said he's received interest from other coaches about starting a middle school division as well.
Whatever plans might be in the future, the present at East-West Stadium saw the Fairmont Senior Polar Bears defeat the Washington Patriots in the boys final, and the Parkersburg South Patriots defeat the Buckhannon-Upshur Buccaneers in the girls final. After a long offseason and many summer days of training, the event functions as a great way for athletes to scratch their itch for genuine competition.
"These guys love this stuff," Parkersburg boys soccer coach Billy Shedd said. "I got 30 kids up here, and I'm trying to get them all playing time. They love to be up here and they love to play, and it's great to see because I love coaching them."
"Our approach this entire year is to have fun and enjoy ourselves," Woodrow Wilson's Laraba said. "Because everybody went through a lot these last 18 months, but these kids went through constant changes whether it was through sports or academics, and I want this to be as stress-free as possible for them."
The tournament has grown to become a focal point of many program's three-week practice period in the summer— a time to evaluate progress and see if offseason tweaks are working as intended.
"They are enjoying themselves, but everything up to this point has been a learning experience," East Fairmont assistant coach Michael Gaskill said. "The three-week live has lasted two weeks up until now, which really isn't a lot of practices. So we're coming in here pretty rough and hopefully we can get it ironed out by the time the season comes around. I think they're all having a good time, finally getting out to play soccer after this year being so tough."
"It's a reward for the hard work we've done in the weight room and on the field the past three weeks and all summer," Buckhannon-Upshur boys soccer coach Mike Donato said. "It's a really good team bonding experience as well, and a chance to really see some of the best competition the state has to offer. This is our 12th year coming and playing in this tournament and we wouldn't miss it for anything. We love coming up here, we love the camaraderie among the coaches and teams, and it's a really nice way to close out our three-week period."
"It's very well organized, one of the best organized offseason tournaments in the area in my opinion. And that's what keeps us coming back every year— the competition, the organization and the camaraderie between us and the other teams."
Reach Nick Henthorn at 304-367-2548 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.