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Sandy upsets tournament plans

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Soccer players are known for their ability to change directions on a dime in pursuit of their goals.

But it was state and local officials who were forced to shift course rapidly when Superstorm Sandy upended their plans for the state soccer tournament in Beckley last week.

The event originally was slated for last Friday and Saturday, but heavy snow in Beckley made playing on the fields there impossible.

Officials with the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission contacted Bill Gillespie, athletic director at Charleston Catholic, and others in Charleston to see if a shift was possible.

With schools already set to be closed Tuesday for the election, Gillespie said the SSAC saw an opportunity to quickly reschedule the tournament without causing students to miss two days of school.

That left only five days to plan the event. Gillespie said officials with the cities of Charleston and South Charleston and the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau have been a big help.

In no time at all, fields at Schoenbaum Soccer Stadium in Coonskin Park and at the Trace Fork Soccer Complex near Corridor G were reserved for the playoff matches.

"The scrambling was trying to get the 75 to 100 volunteers, the foods, hospitality, rooms, the logistics of the hotels and everything," Gillespie said. "The fields were kind of the easy part."

Some of the traditional tournament amenities, such as hospitality stations for the adults, had to go by the wayside given the short notice, Gillespie said. But everyone wanted to make sure the event was still special for the participating teams.

"What we do have is really just focused on the kids. And it's really helped us," he said. "We were able to feed all the kids after the games; we were able to give all the gifts and stuff out."

Each player received a backpack full of visitor guides and coupons for local stores and restaurants. Lindsay Gardner, spokeswoman for the visitor's bureau, said finding hotel rooms was pretty simple but her agency had to work quickly to find the coupons.

She said the bureau's good relationship with the hotels paid off. She also mentioned that Alisa Bailey, head of the visitors bureau, has estimated the tournament will have an economic impact of nearly $70,000.

Butch Buckley, manager of the South Charleston Ice Arena, has seen impact firsthand. He volunteered to let teams from Charleston Catholic, Bluefield, Bridgeport and Fairmont use locker rooms at the facility.

He said it's all about helping the students, and he was happy to chip in.

Because of Election Day school closures, the rink was packed with local children Tuesday. But Buckley said the tournament gives him an opportunity to show out-of-town visitors what he has to offer.

"We do want to showcase our place," Buckley said. "You'd be amazed how many people walk in and say, 'I didn't know there was an ice skating rink here!' "

The rink's concession stands were open, and Buckley thought the stores in the Trace Fork area also might see a little bump in activity.

As of Tuesday morning Gillespie said the tournament, which is scheduled to wrap up today, was progressing nicely. Gillespie hoped the beautiful weather and the accommodations made for a memorable experience.

"We have really spent a lot of our time over the five days making sure the student-athletes feel at home in Charleston," he said.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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